A sermon by Coty Pinckney, preached at Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 9/24/95
This morning we begin a short series of sermons on money. Money is discussed a surprising number of places in the Bible. Larry Burkett says there are 1600 verses in the Bible that have to do with money or finances -- there are indeed over 500 verses that include one of the words "money," "riches," or "wealth." (Click here for Online Bible verselist.) The handout provides you with a printout of some 360 of these verses. Money is thus a prominent topic throughout the Bible. It is clear that our attitudes towards money and wealth are indicative of who we are and what our relationship is with God. This is an intensely practical subject.
Today we will look at the attitudes we should have towards money. Some of you may have worried when you heard we would be discussing money. In many churches, ministers are reluctant to address this topic because they know that the money they are paid comes from the people in the congregation. In the church I grew up in, we had one sermon a year on money, and that was the only time in the year when the pastor did not speak. There were people in the congregation who spoke instead. I think the pastor must have felt there were people in the congregation who would say, "Oh, he's going to talk about money, he's going to make me feel guilty about not tithing, or he's going to tell me what I should do with my money." Well, let me say up front that we are not going to say anything about tithing today. Next week, we will discuss tithing in passing, and you might be surprised at what I say. So tune in next week. And I'm not going to tell you anything that I think you should do with your money, so you can feel OK on that account. But like all of our preaching, we are asked to look at the Bible and see what God's word has to tell us about the topic of the day. And so after praying about this and studying the Bible for some time on this topic, I'm going to share with you what I believe God is telling us on the subject of money -- and what he is telling me. And I think you will find that there are some very challenging things God is telling us about money -- challenging to me, challenging to you -- but like all of the Bible, we'll find when we take these lessons and apply them to our lives, there are great blessings that accompany our obedience. So I encourage you to think seriously about this topic, to see how you should live out your life in light of God's word on this subject. If Christianity has no impact on our pocketbooks and the way that we use our credit cards, Christianity is not worth very much.
So now let's see what God has to tell us about these issues. But first, let us pray:
Dear Lord, we thank you for the opportunity to address this very important topic -- one which confronts us every day of our lives. I pray, Lord, that you would be with me and help me to speak your words, that you would open our hearts and make them sensitive to your teaching and your leading. Thank you that we can be here this morning and think about these issues. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Please turn in your Bible to 1 Timothy chapter 6. There are so many verses in the Bible that have to do with money, and in the course of this series I will be referring to a number of those, so I do strongly encourage you to take the list of verses and look at them over the week. This passage in 1 Timothy 6 is an important one - it brings up many of the themes we will discuss in the weeks ahead. 1 Timothy chapter 6 beginning in verse 5. Paul has been talking about false teachers, and he says there are false teachers:
who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (skipping to verse 17) Command those who are rich in this present world 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. 18 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.
One more verse I'd like to share with you before we get started: Hebrews 13:5.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
The love of money -- the love of money. Both of these passages talk about the love of money. Why do we tend to love money? Why is it a temptation to love money. This morning I want to look at 3 myths, 3 lies that the world tells us about money. I think that deep down these are lies that we all know are false, but it is very easy in our day to day activities to live as if these lies are true. And those of you who are taking notes, particularly you kids, these are the three big points.
Lie number 1: We deserve whatever we have, and who we are is wrapped up in what we have. My self-image is dependent on what I own. That is the first lie.
Second lie: Money brings happiness.
Third lie: Money brings security. Security comes from having sufficient financial resources.
Those are the three lies we are going to look at today. Next week, we will look at the positive side. If all these things are false, what is money for? Just to give you a clue about the outline for next week, money as we read in 1 Timothy is for our enjoyment, for helping the needy, and for participating in God's work. Those are the purposes for money which we will discuss next week. But now let's return to the myths and examine them one by one.
Lie number 1: We deserve whatever we have.
It is very easy for us to feel this way, particularly in this society. The myth of the self-made man is an important part of American culture. And it is easy for us to say, "What I own, I have gained from my own hard work -- at least, I've worked harder than these folks over there -- and who I am is all wrapped up in what I own." Well, let's ask this question: Do we deserve what we have? I want to first ask that question completely from a secular point of view -- this is something that economists like myself like to study: to what extent is wealth and income the result of the effort, the hard work of those who own it? Even from a secular perspective the answer to that question is, "only to a small extent." Certainly it is true that the person who is a diligent worker, who is wise in making investments, who is saving regularly is likely on average to have more than the person who is the opposite in all those ways. However, there are many, many accidents that lead one person to have more than another: the accident of your race, the accident of your, the accident of your family, the accident of your country. Some of the hardest working people I have ever met, and some of the people who have made the wisest investments I have ever seen, are people who have an income of about $3 a day and live in the highlands of East Africa. But they have had no opportunity to get any more than that because of where they were born, the resources that they inherited, and the policies of their governments. I suspect that everyone in this sanctuary today is rich, by some important definition of the word. All of us, I am quite confident, are in the top 15% of the income distribution of the world, so most people are much poorer than we. And I doubt, frankly, that all of us here are in the top 15% of the most diligent in the world. So there is no one-to-one correspondence between diligence, hard work, and income. Thus, even from a secular perspective, we do not deserve what we have -- a lot of what we have is ours because of these accidents, because of chance (from a secular perspective).
But what about the biblical perspective? From a biblical perspective we do not deserve what we have AT ALL. Look at 1 Chronicles 29, David's prayer when he is commissioning Solomon as his successor, and talking about the money they have raised to give to God for the building of the temple. David says, "Wealth and honor come from you, Lord; wealth and honor come from you." Deuteronomy 8:17-18 takes this a step further back:
You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." 18 But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.
So what God is saying here is even if what we have is the result of our hard work, that hard work itself is a gift of God. Our ability to do hard work is a gift of God. So who we are does not consist of what we own. Our status does not depend on our income. We do not deserve whatever we have. Let's keep that in mind.
Second lie: Money brings happiness.
This myth takes many forms. Usually it takes the form of, "If I only had such and such, then I would be happy." If I only had . . . a newer car, If I only had . . . a larger house, If I only had another few thousand dollars per year, If I only had . . . a horse, If I only had some better clothes, or a better education. You know there are surveys done every year about who are the most admired people. And who comes at the top of such lists? Almost always wealthy people, famous people, who are envied because we tend to think that this is what life is really about. Well, does money lead to happiness? I think we should ask the question; we know that the Bible tells us it doesn't, but empirically, look around you. Does money lead to happiness? There is one sense it which it does. Economists love to study things ceteris paribus -- holding other things constant. And if you really could hold everything else constant, I think it is true that having more money would lead to some additional happiness. If you could hold your attitudes constant, the way you relate to people constant, everything about yourself constant, and add an extra $20,000 per year, that gives you more choices, more opportunities, and you probably would be happier. The problem is that when you desire more, that desire itself changes you. And when you get more, you are not content with what you have, but you want yet more. Ecclesiastes chapter 5 verse 10 says this:
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This holds no matter what that income might be. The fact that happiness does not correspond to income was very strongly driven home to me when as a 20 year old I went to East Africa for the first time to teach secondary school. I was living with people who were like these that I mentioned earlier, making 3 or 4 dollars per day, maybe having $1500 per year to raise a family of 7 or 8. And there was tragedy in this community because of poverty -- there was high infant mortality, there were children who were dying of diseases that were curable, there were children whose education was halted because their parents didn't have the money to send them to school. And yet, these people who were very, very poor by our standards had a joy of living that I rarely found among my friends in the States. And I have found that to be true in many, many different places.
Some of you remember our friend Mary Kitiku, who visited us from Kenya. Mary is from a very poor family, and when she was here she was rather overcome by what she saw. We took her to some of the poorer places around here and also in South Carolina. But Mary commented, "There is no one who is really poor in this country." And by her standards that was true. Yet she also made the comment: "With all this money, people don't seem any happier here than they are in Kenya." Well, again, when economists and other social scientists have tried to look at this, and gone about this very difficult task of measuring satisfaction and happiness, they have been able to show that across countries there is virtually no correlation between higher income and happiness. Within countries, there is some correlation -- it seems that people like to be richer than their neighbors -- but simply having a greater abundance of possessions does not lead to any more contentment or happiness. That, again, is from a secular point of view.
But what God tells us is even deeper, and helps to explain the secular finding. The Bible tells us that whether we are poor or rich, or somewhere in the middle, if we have a desire for more money, if that is driving us, we will never be satisfied. That desire will continue to dominate us whether our income is ten thousand, ten hundred thousand, or ten million dollars a year. But what is the biblical perspective on this? What should our attitude be? As we read in 1 Timothy, Paul says "If we have food and clothing, we should be content with that." Perhaps a better translation of those words would be "If we have sustenance and covering -- if we have what we need in order to live, both to nourish us and to protect us from the elements, we will be content with that."
The word "content" is an interesting one. The same Greek word is used in the Hebrews passage I read earlier, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, for God has said 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" Then there is another passage in Philippians that uses this same word, "contentment." In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul says
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
What is contentment? The Greek word means "self-sufficiency." For those of you who have studied some economics, it is the word we get "autarky" from. It was a word the Stoic philosophers used. Socrates -- who wasn't a Stoic, he predated them -- Socrates said this in response to a question about who was the wealthiest: "He who is content with the least -- for self-sufficiency is nature's wealth." Now, the Stoic philosophers had this idea that everything was determined outside of you, and the only thing you had control of was what was inside of you, your attitudes. And so you need to get your attitudes in line with this deterministic universe around you, and then you would be content despite what happens around you. Well, like in so many other ways, Paul takes this idea from secular philosophy, and then infuses it with God's wisdom. Paul is not saying here that we should be content because there is this deterministic universe out there -- bad things are going to happen to everyone, so we just need to get our will in line with the deterministic universe. No. Paul's idea is that God is in control of our lives. And whatever he wants us to do, he will provide us with the necessary resources to accomplish. Furthermore, true happiness comes not from building up resources, but true happiness comes from doing the will of God. So that is why Paul and Silas in chains in a Philippian jail were able to sing praises to God, and be content, self-sufficient, or -- perhaps better -- God-sufficient in that situation.
Well, what are you striving for? When you look back at your life, what can you boast about? What we need to be striving for is to do God's will, and not to be striving for some elusive happiness that the world tells us comes from accumulating resources.
That is the second myth. So we don't deserve the money we have; money does not lead to happiness, and finally:
Third lie: Money brings security
Security does not come from building up resources. Now this particular lie, that money leads to security, comes in the mail at least once every two months. Something from Publisher's Clearinghouse or Reader's Digest, usually made out to Beth Pinckney, not me (I don't know why), and with some fake check, written BETH PINCKNEY in script letters, and then, "One comma zero zero zero comma zero zero zero point zero zero, one million dollars, Beth Pinckney YOU have made it through the first two stages. You have had your name randomly selected (one of 20 million people in the US) and you have now opened the letter. All you have to do is mail this back to us and then have your name drawn, two more stages, and you will have FINANCIAL SECURITY for the rest of your life." Do you send those back? (We can talk about that in Sunday School too, whether or not you should.) The Bible warns us against this attitude, this feeling that if we only had that one million dollars then we would be secure. This attitude is hit again and again and again in the Bible, Old Testament, New Testament, many many places. For example, look at Proverbs 11:28: "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf."
Well, why? It certainly seems logical to think that if I had one million dollars in the bank then I would be secure. Why not? There are two reasons: First, even in this life, even in this life, money and financial resources are fleeting. Proverbs 23:5 "Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone. For they will certainly sprout wings and fly off like an eagle." As Jesus Christ says, treasures on earth are destroyed by moth and rust, and thieves break in and steal. There is another verse in Proverbs, 13:8, that has been paraphrased like this, "A rich man can ransom himself with his money, but a poor man sleeps without worries. " Riches can disappear, and we can spend a lot of worry, and time, and energy trying to make sure that they don't. That's one of the reasons why money can never be our security.
But secondly, and more importantly, as Paul says, "we entered this world with nothing, and we leave it with nothing." Ray Stedman, my former pastor in California, told a story when preaching on this passage about a man who came to him and said, "Oh, I want to be just like my uncle!" Ray asked, "Why do you want to be just like your uncle?" "He died a millionaire!" And Ray said, "Did he? How much did he take with him?" When the man died, he was no longer a millionaire -- his heirs may have been, but he had exactly nothing. Jesus makes this point very forcefully, in Luke 12. This passage deserves a sermon of its own. Luke 12 beginning in verse 15 -- you may want to turn to this: He is speaking to the Pharisees, and he makes the point we have just made:
Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." 16 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."
This man's problem was not that he had been very successful in his work. This man's problem was not necessarily that he was thinking how to build better resources for storing what he had. This man's problem was that he was thinking of this wealth as his security. He was not using the wealth that God had given him for the purposes that God had intended, but only for himself, and thinking that he was perfectly secure because of all that he had.
Well, what is your attitude? If despite your insurance and your savings and your home equity and your education and your skills and your experience -- if despite all these things you woke up tomorrow morning and found that you had . . . nothing -- it had all taken wings and flown away like the riches in the Proverb we read -- what would your reaction be? In the 1930's some people in that situation found they couldn't live any more after that. What would your reaction be? Does your life consist of the abundance of your possessions?
Well, let us conclude by thinking about all three of these myths together. Have we been taken in by these lies? You know, most of us, if we just asked ourselves, Do we really believe that money leads to happiness? We would say, "No" -- we know Howard Hughes was one of the most miserable men who ever lived. We can think of other people who show us that money does not lead to happiness. And yet not at all infrequently we act as if it does. How much of your self-image is wrapped up in your income, in your wealth, in your possessions? If you were to lose all your money, would you feel like a failure, would you feel worthless? Does the desire for more dominate much of your life? Do you feel insecure because of a lack of money or resources? Or do you feel secure because financially you have everything lined up? Well, none of our self-image should be wrapped up in the abundance of our possessions -- our self-image should come only because of what God has said about us, what God has done for us. And as Paul says, we need to be content with what we have, knowing that God has given us everything we need in order to fulfill his purposes for us. And God is our security, God is our rock, God is our fortress, not what we own. He will never, ever leave us or forsake us, as the author of the book of Hebrews tells us. I pray that you would think about these things this week and reflect on them. Read these verses I have offered to you, and think about the proper ways that we should be using the resources that God gives us. Let us pray.
Lord, you have told us that your word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and we can feel that sharpness even now. Lord, we live in a world where magazines and newspapers and the mail we receive all tell us that true life and true happiness come from having more, that real security comes from building up a large financial base, and that the most important people, the people who should be listened to are the people who are wealthy, who have made their millions and billions. Lord, we know deep down that these lies are not true -- and yet so often we allow those lies to affect the way that we live. Forgive us, Lord, help us to take the conviction that we feel, and translate that tomorrow -- and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and every day -- into changes in the way that we act. Help us Lord to reflect on the proper use of the material gifts you give us, and help us then to use them for your glory. Help us to store up treasures in heaven, knowing that that is the life that is truly life. All this we pray in Jesus' name. Amen
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 9/24/95. This sermon draws even more than usual on the wisdom of Ray Stedman; see his sermon on this passage at thePBC web site.
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