Finding the Antidote for Materialism-Luke 12:13-33,1 Timothy 6:17-19

 

Extra Money

As we head toward Thanksgiving, we have the perfect opportunity to pause and consider how we can glorify God by not only considering all we have to be thankful for, but also by responding to His generosity to us by learning how we can become more like Him in His generosity. And the place I want to start (because I know it’s something that you struggle with each and every day) is to help you think about what you can do with all of your extra money. We all face this problem don’t we? It’s such a big problem for us! “Argh! What should I do with all of this extra money I have lying around?!”

Now you are laughing because none of us feel like we have any extra money, but we do, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today. Extra money is a weird phrase isn’t it? What is extra money? What does it look like? Well, let me help you identify it:

  • If you eat out, you have extra money.
  • If you go to the movies, you have extra money. (Now, I can already hear it, “Well, I have to entertain myself occasionally!” But you can go a long time without going to a movie. Like, you won’t get sick, you won’t die, you won’t be injured, nothing will fall off.)
  • If you have two cars, extra money.
  • If you own your own home, oh, my gosh, you have some extra money.
  • An expensive coffee habit, that’s extra money.
  • Seasonal wardrobe. Like, you have a little closet in your house for your winter clothes, and they just lived there all during the summer. Extra money.
  • How about this? Pajamas. Work clothes. Relax clothes. Workout clothes. Golf clothes. Work-out-in-the-yard clothes. That’s extra money.
  • Have you ever traded or gotten rid of something that worked, just see you to get the next one that was better? The whole idea of upgrading? That’s because you have extra.
  • How about a garage sale? What’s a garage sale? That’s when you have so much extra stuff; you don’t even know what to do with it. And at the end of the garage sale, you go: we made $320. And what are you going to do with it? Well, now you have extra money, you don’t think it’s extra, because somehow you needed that.
  • And then here’s one that drives us all crazy, I know. That thing at the bottom of your sink that you flip the switch and it goes bzzzzzzzzz. What do you call that? The what? Yeah, they call it a garbage disposal. But I’ve never put garbage in ours; I’ve always put food in ours. And 90% of it was food that we could’ve eaten. But we have so much extra food almost every night at my house; we put food in the garbage disposal. And you do too. Why? Because we have extra.

You have probably never viewed yourself this way, but all of us here today are rich compared to the rest of the world. For example, if I told you I was offering you a job with salary of $37,000 a year, would you feel rich? Probably not. Chances are, you wouldn’t even be interested. A salary of $37,000 would represent a pay cut for most Americans. But for 96% of the world’s population, $37,000 a year would be a significant increase.

Did you know that if you earn more than $37,000 a year you are in the top 4% of wage earners in the world? Do you know what that means? You are rich!

You may have, from time to time, asked: “Why do I have more than other people?” But you probably haven’t used the word “extra.” And that’s the word were going to talk about you’ve never wondered, “Why do I have so much extra?”

And the reason is, our culture keeps us so focused on things we don’t have, the things we don’t drive, the houses we don’t live in, that we always feel behind. I don’t know about you, but when I go to the mall, I feel like I’m always dressed incorrectly and I’m always about six months or a year behind. I’ve never walked to the mall and thought to myself as I’m looking around, “I wonder why I have so much extra?” I’ve never had that thought.

But if we were beginning to ask that question, we would likely answer like most Americans do, that the extra is for me. Our tendency is to allow our lifestyle to chase our income. One of the things that we don’t like about what’s happening in our country right now is that our lifestyles are feeling pressure, and we feel like we have financial problems. But most of us just have lifestyle problems, and were feeling the pressure because we don’t have as much extra.

And Jesus comes along, as Jesus typically does, and kind of rocks our world and addresses this issue specifically. I want us to look at a teaching of Jesus this morning that will help us to recognize what God wants us to do with our extra.

 

Recognizing Greed

In Luke 12:13, someone in the crowd around Jesus asks Him if He would tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. This seems like a reasonable request, even though it’s none of Jesus’ business. But Jesus’ answer catches us off guard. He basically responds to the guy’s request by telling him to watch out for greed. Now if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound greedy,” and I think that’s what the audience around Jesus was probably thinking too. So Jesus decided to tell a story to help them understand.

In Luke 12, beginning in verse 16, we read:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself ?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

So we see in the story that the farmer made the same assumption that most Americans make. He made the assumption that if he had extra, it was for him. Often we are just like this farmer, except we don’t build bigger barns; we just get better cars. We upgrade. We buy nicer houses. Because if we have extra, it must be for us.

The farmer in the story forgot to ask the question that most of us forget to ask because it’s not even a category for most of us and it’s this: Why has God given me extra?

And we find that because he didn’t ask this question, and he assumed that his extra was for himself, God called him a fool. Why was he a fool? Because he thought all the extra was for him. And then he experienced something that most of us will experience: he ran out of time before he ran out of money. So then who would get what he had prepared for himself? Someone else. But not because he was generous, because he was dead. And the final verse is powerful: verse 21 says, “this is how it will be with anyone who stores things up for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Now what does that mean? Rich toward God. He answers this question in verse 33. He defines what it means to be rich toward God. He says, “sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

So we find in summary, that what Jesus is saying is this – when you have extra, it’s for those in need. Now this is very challenging, because here’s what this means – it means that if you just naturally allow your lifestyle to keep pace with your income, then you are living as if the extra is all for you. Here’s what else it means, it means if you have a savings plan and a spending habit, but no generosity plan, you are living as if the extra is all for you. That is called greed.

The funny thing about greed is that it’s very difficult, maybe even impossible, to see in the mirror. I’ve never met a person who thinks that they are greedy. I’ve met people who think they are careful, or that they are a good planner, or that they are a good steward. But never someone who thinks they’re greedy. So for us, who are in the top 4% of wage earners in the world, we need to be sure that we maintain a biblical view of how to handle money and Scripture warns about this often.

 

Freedom from the Dangers of Money

For instance, in 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul tells Timothy to, “Command those who are rich in the present world (remember – that is US!) not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

I want you to notice what Paul teaches here – that money can do two things to people: it can make us arrogant, and over time it can become our primary source of hope, leaving us with the impression that we are self-sufficient. Money has its own gravitational pull. It will always draw those who have it in the direction of those two things. So to survive the test of money, we must learn to compensate and resist its sinister force.

How do we do this? Paul teaches us in the very next verses. 1 Timothy 6:18-19 says, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” In these verses, Paul gives us an antidote to the dangers of money: generosity. When we are generous, it protects us from the natural pull of money toward arrogance and self-sufficiency.

But generosity can be tricky to define. Just as we don’t believe we are rich, we do think we are generous. If you’ve ever given a dollar to a homeless person, or directions to a tourist, or a smile to a stranger, you think you are generous. But that’s not the kind of generosity that vaccinates you against the side effects of money. For that, we need something a little more tangible. We need guidelines to follow. We need principals to observe. So let me give you three principles to consider as you think about how to be more generous – and take note – this is the antidote for materialism.

 

The Antidote for Materialism – Generosity

The first is priority giving. The Old Testament talked a lot about first fruits. First fruits were “choice examples of a crop harvested first and dedicated to God. In accordance with Mosaic law, individual Israelites brought to the house of the Lord “the choice (that is, “the best”) first fruits of their soil” (Exod. 23:19; 34:26). This took place on the day after the Passover Sabbath and was a public acknowledgment that all came from God and belonged to Him.[1]

This biblical principle suggests that we should put God first as well. God should always have first-place. There’s a tendency to think that generosity is just for when you have extra money, but when you make giving a priority, something happens inside of you. Especially when it’s financially challenging to do so. It’s like you loosen your grip on a value system whose motto says, “Money is the key to life and happiness and safety.” In that split second, you reject that way of thinking and claim, “My hope is not in riches but in Him who richly provides.” And suddenly, your eyes begin to open to a value system that can’t be measured by dollars.

The best way to make giving a priority is to make it the very first check you write every month. Whenever God blesses you with income let your first action be a gesture that acknowledges where it came from. Whatever the amount, do it first. The minute you deposit your paycheck. This not only ensures that you’re guarded as a priority, but it’s a symbolic way of reminding you where your hope lies.

The second principle with regard to becoming generous is percentage giving. If you want to guard against the dangers of money, you can’t evaluate your giving in terms of dollars. Percentages give you a much better reflection of whether you have control of your money or your money has control of you. Everybody is entrusted with a portion in this life. We don’t all get the same amount. So it doesn’t make sense to measure generosity based on the ability to give a certain dollar figure.

Jesus showed us this principle in the story of the widow’s mite. She didn’t give much, she only gave two small coins, but those two small coins represented everything she had. So we see that in Jesus’s eyes, the percentage matters more than the sum.

So what percentage should you give? I recommend that you start with 10% because the biblical authors have a lot to say about the tithe, which means “tenth.” For some people, that sounds extremely uncomfortable, but so is a colonoscopy or a mammogram, yet those save countless lives. It just depends on how badly you want to protect yourself from the potential dangers of money.

Now I know that percentage giving is a mathematical thing, and in church we usually don’t talk about math. I know some people are math people and some people are not math people. So I understand this can be difficult or hard to understand. So let me make this very easy for you, let me try to explain this in a way that we all can understand. Here’s what I mean when I talk about percentage giving. I will go over this a couple of times, because were not all math people.

It means every time you get 10 of these (hold up one dollar bills), you take one of them and you say, “God, I want to dedicate this to your church and your work in the world.”

Now let me go over this again, because I know it’s kind of complicated, okay? Now follow me, okay? I know some of you were kind of like, “What?!” I understand, I think I went too fast. But this is important, so let me go over it again.

Every time you get 10 of these, you say, “wow! I got ten! God, I want to dedicate one of these to your work in the church in your work in the world.” And God says I get to keep nine! “No, maybe that’s too many. Oh, okay, God, whatever you say, I’ll keep nine.” Any questions?

The third principle of becoming generous is progressive giving. If you really want to guard yourself against the dangers of money, you shouldn’t overlook this one. To be progressive simply means that over time you raise the percentage. Here’s why. As you vaccinate yourself against the dangerous side effects of money over the years, those preventative measures don’t have quite the same affect over time. For example, if you fast-forward a decade or two, now you’re making more money, the kids are grown and out of the house, the house is paid off, and your 401(k) holds enough for a comfortable retirement. If you’re still giving 10% but you no longer need 90% to live on you will still have a lot of extra money lying around. And as we have learned, that’s a breeding ground for arrogant thoughts and misplaced hope.

The solution? As your financial situation changes throughout life, change your giving percentage along with it.

God commanded us to be generous not because he wanted our money, but because he didn’t want our money to have us. But there’s more to generosity than simply giving something away. Just as money can have negative side effects, giving away wealth has positive side effects. And that is what will take a look at next week – we will look at the impact that generosity has on us. And the following week we will take a look at what impact generosity has on the world. I hope you will join us for the rest of this incredibly important sermon series.

[1] Walker, L. (2003). First fruits. In (C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler, Eds.)Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

 

 

 

 

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