The Dangers and Obligations of Money, and the Rewards of Generosity
Are you familiar with the concept of reverse culture shock? Culture shock is the shock you get when you move to a new culture and things aren't as you're used to. As an Aussie living in Britain I've often been surprised by the little differences between us… there's actually quite a few of us here who were born elsewhere, perhaps you know what I mean. Well, reverse culture shock is the shock of going home and finding you no longer fit there either. I get it now when I go back to Australia. Now I'm officially a Brit I can hear everyone going up at the end of sentences for example. Reverse culture shock is one of the biggest challenges missionaries face on their return home. And for many – especially if they've been working somewhere poorer than home – at the heart of it is the shock of plenty. Suddenly supermarket shelves are full to bursting with food and produce of rich variety and splendour. Anything you want you can just buy. And everyone takes it all for granted, like it's just normal. And the friends who had little when they left have grown into those who have plenty. Those who lived in student digs, now live in beautiful houses, those who drove old bangers now drive BMWs and Audi's, or nearly new people carriers. They may not have been pursuing wealth out of the love of money (as we heard last week) and yet wealth has come to them all the same, because we're a rich country. And what makes it hardest is that going away and coming back you can see the ways in which having plenty has subtly warped the society they left behind… but we who've been here all along can't see the impact it has on us.
This is the topic of our passage this morning – not the danger of loving money, but the danger of simply having it.
And Paul teaches us three things in this passage:
1. the dangers of having money
2. the obligations that come from having money
3. the reward that follows from generosity
And we're going to take each of these points in order:
1. The Dangers of having Money
"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain,"
Paul identifies two great dangers that come to everyone who has money, or who's rich.
And rich is a slippery term isn't it? It's relative – I'm rich compared to the homeless man I pass on the quayside, but poor compared to the footballers I watch on the tellie. So am I rich or not? Well Paul has already said that we should be content with foot to eat and clothes to wear (verse 7). I take it anything more than that is riches – we're all rich. Of course some are much richer than others – and so more open to the particular temptations that follow from having money… but all of us here have money and need to take care lest we fall prey to these particular dangers.
So what are the dangers? Two things Paul mentions here – the first is arrogance: 'Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant'.
Why? Well because having money gives us power to get what we want, to buy what we want, to collect valuable things – and this gives us the false impression that we're somehow worthy. The more money we have, the more people do things for us – we have employees, we go out for meals and people cook for us, we take out our wallets and doors open for us, things get done for us at the top end we have nannies and cleaners and various other 'staff' who serve us. And the more we have the more people fuss over us, and the more we begin to assume it – we don't even notice the people taking away the plates, we think nothing of making commands … and our very sense of self is subtly shifted. We accumulate things of value and it makes us feel more worthy. And as our wealth grows so we push back the restrictions on us – we can do more of what we want, the boundaries are moved back before us because of the power of our wealth.
But it's a dangerous delusion. Think about Donald Trump. Right at this moment he has more money and power than just about every other person on the planet. As President he has highly trained secret service agents primed to sacrifice their lives for his. But his life is not intrinsically worth more than theirs. Nor is his life more valuable than the homeless people he passes by in his armoured limousine, or the people he would have evicted and shut out by walls. But the way he degrades others strongly suggests that his years of enjoying the power of wealth have convinced him he is superior, far superior – he is inherently more worthy then everyone else.
And you see the danger don't you – if you have an inflated sense of your own worth, you must also have a deflated sense of others' worth. And so you treat people as less than you, less worthy of your time, of your concern, of you love and help. People become means to an end rather, wallets to fleece or fools to be ignored.
And it doesn't take Donald Trump levels of wealth us. How hard it is to pass a homeless person or someone begging and remember that they are just like us. How easy it is to measure others by the car that they drive – or the clothes they wear – we're constantly measuring each other like that. Timothy, command the rich not to be arrogant!
And the second danger of wealth: we can begin to imagine that our money makes us safe. So Timothy – command those who are rich not to put their trust in money which is so uncertain. Don't trust in money!
This is so obvious and yet so hard to grasp. We save for a rainy day. Good idea. But then we imagine they rescue us in the time of need – when the rains come. We buy insurance, we put into pension schemes, we make a savings plan for the new car, or our kids university education … and very easily we begin to think that we've got things sorted, we're covered, we've got it under control. So our trust shifts from the God who we can't see to the money that we can. We study the accounts, we tally up what we'll need… But what if it's not enough – so we double down, we work harder, we invest more, we fret and worry – because we know that money is uncertain – who knows how much we'll need in the future? Inflation eats away at value, stock markets go up and down, or crash altogether. Whole banks fail, taking our savings with them. Thieves break in and take, or remotely remove it from our bank accounts. Market re-valuations slash the value of our houses. People who owe us money default on loans, or go bankrupt, but we were depending on that… or interest rates hike and we can't afford our repayments and suddenly the house that was safe as houses is being sold out from under us… the list of ways that money can let us down could go on and on and on and we'd never get to the end of it.
And yet it's so obvious that we need money for life, so easy to tip over into vesting our hopes and dreams in it.
Last year on holiday Zoe read a book by a potter. It's a family memoir, a man who makes pottery researches the history of his family through the objects he's inherited. His family was immensely wealthy – a banking family with means and ambition to match the Rothschilds as among the very richest in Europe. They lived in luxury and splendour, collecting art, and commissioning grand houses and making plans for more. They imagined a future just like the present, because they were rich and well connected. But one day it all cames crashing down – through no fault of their own, they just happened to be Jews, based in Vienna and Paris, and Mr Hitler strips it all from them. So our author tours Europe looking at the houses his family built – from the outside, from the pavement, just like the rest of us. And that story is extreme, but it's not unique. How many of the millions and millions of refugees fleeing across Europe, Africa and the Middle East right not were people of means? I would image a great many of them. Perhaps they had savings plans too, and insurance and pension pots and property portfolios. Now they have the clothes on their backs and the kindness of strangers.
So do not put your trust in wealth – it is here today and gone in an instant. Have savings, by all means, buy insurance, pay your pension – but remember that those things cannot secure your future, cannot protect your joy or your house or your children. Do not put your trust in wealth which is so uncertain.
So watch out for the danger so having money.
And instead, point two, be aware of the obligations of having money.
2. The Obligations of having Money
"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. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."
Notice that this is arranged as the mirror opposite of the dangers of having money – we are not to put our trust in money, which is so uncertain, but instead we are to put our hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. We are not to become arrogant (and focused on ourselves), but to do good, to be rich in good deeds and generous and willing to share.
Two matched pairs of dangers and obligations, or of do's and don'ts.
The first of these is somehow both obvious and profound: Put your hope in God not money. Money is uncertain, you can't trust it. But God on the other hand is unchanging, from age to age the same – the one great constant even beyond creation. And he is faithful, everything he has promised he will do. We can trust him.
Indeed God provides richly for our enjoyment. God's generosity is astonishing. Consider how richly and lavishly has God provided food. He could feed us with all the energy, vitamins and minerals we need via some formless, tasteless gloop – but he's so lavish in giving us flavours and colours and textures, and unlimited variety in the ways of preparing it. He didn't stop at Strawberries, but gave us Rasberries and Blueberries and Boisonberries and black berries and Gooseberries and cranberries and more! And chocolate and coffee and …
In sin we think of God as a tight fisted spoil sport. But that doesn't fit the facts at all. He gives to us richly for our enjoyment. So if you have money – enjoy it, that's what it's for. But much more than that, give thanks to God for it and entrust yourself to him, for he cares for you and he delights to provide all that you need.
And that of course leads to the second obligation that Paul tells Timothy to command.
We are to do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share. In a very real sense these are not three things, but three ways of saying the same thing, more clearly and more pointedly each time!
So we must Do good – this is requires trust in God –because if we do good in this world others get ahead of us – or so it seems; doing good seems so risky, so foolish in the way that the world works, where selfishness is the way ahead… but we don't follow the ways of the world, we put our hope in God and trust that he will leave no good work unrewarded – not that we deserve his thanks or his praise, but we know that out of his rich generosity he will provide for us. So use the money he gives you to do good, rather than to indulge yourself.
And this means we are to Be rich in good deeds – what a lovely thing Paul does here – how much better to be rich in goodness than to be rich in money. We know what it means to accumulate money and to heap it up and hoard it, how much better to deliberately accumulate good deeds. So this amplifes what Paul has already said – don't just do a little good, but be rich in this, excel in this – not just a good dead here and there; multiplying good deeds, scattering good deeds everywhere like you spread your investments.
Oh, yes, and don't use all that money on yourself, be generous and willing to share – this what it means to be rich in good deeds: being rich in money use the money for good; practice hospitality as it says in other parts of the NT – look after your brothers and sisters who are in need, share the much that you have with those who have little so that everyone has enough. You aren't responsible for every need of every person in the world, or even in your church, but if you have money and love, then love should lead to that money leaving your possession for the benefit of others!
I think one of the problems of talking about money in church is that I'm paid from what you give. Well of course I'd encourage you to give wouldn't I? So let me help you out. Give to things that aren't church too. Give to people in need. Give to people who've gone out to share the gospel in other places. Give to AID working in South Sudan, give to Dr Sasa working in the jungles of Myanmar/Burma, give to Revive international working with Street girls in Olinda Brazil – use your money to help as many people as you can, be rich in good deeds, be generous and willing to share – God has given you money that other people need precisely so that you can share it with them. So don't hold back on doing good with it. Just as God richly provides for us, so you be rich in generosity.
And before we move on, just very briefly – you do notice that Timothy was solemnly charged to do this – and Timothy in turn was to command the rich in this area. Generosity is not an optional extra for us who know Jesus, it is commanded of us, required of us, we must be generous. Not because God is a tight fist who wants to take our money – but because God wants good for us – he richly provides every good thing and he wants us to be generous like him.
And as if to emphasise just how generous and rich towards us our God is there is more in this passage – we must be generous, and when we are, there is great benefit to us. This is point three – the rewards of being generous.
3. The Rewards of being Generous
"Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 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."
We will lay up treasure for ourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age so that we can take hold of the life which is truly life! Extraordinary. It turns out that you can take it with you after all! Or perhaps it's better to say you can send it on ahead of you by being rich in good deeds, by being generous.
Paul is simply applying what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount – Matthew 6:19...
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
You can't take money with you, but you can send it on ahead. And it turns out that the way to send it on is to use it for the benefit of others now.
Let's think about this: We've just got into junior monopoly in our house – it has all the addictive qualities of grown up monopoly but it's a lot simpler. You start the game with 17-20 dollars of monopoly money and whoever has the most monopoly money at the end of the game wins. Sadly there are no little houses or hotels to build on your properties like in the real game. Another thing I miss are the big bank notes – junior monopoly works entirely in one pound notes. I miss the 50's, the 100's and the whopping 500 pound notes. But it doesn't really matter that the big money is missing because the thing about monopoly money is that it's only good for monopoly purchases. 3 monopoly monies will buy you a sweat shop in junior monopoly, but the same three bank notes won't buy you a single sweat in the real world. 500 pounds might buy you a hotel on Park Lane, but you can't get even a cup of coffee in the real world with that 500 pound monopoly note.
And it's a bit like that with the wealth we accumulate in this world. Money will buy us all kinds of things on earth, but when the game stops we find that it's as useful as monopoly money in heaven. That was part of the point last week – that's why we shouldn't chase money as if it's the be all and end all – it won't help us a jot in the age to come. But what Paul is saying here is that the money we have – the useless monopoly money – can be used to buy real treasure, if we just give it away. God honours our generosity and returns it with greater generosity of his own, laying up treasures for us in heaven as a firm foundation for the age to come. Now that's a good deal, imagine exchanging all the monopoly money you could find for actual houses and hotels, you'd be rolling in it.
Well you can. All you have to do is to trust God and give it away. So will you?