“True happiness is when you marry a girl for love and later discover that she has money,” or so said the comedian, the late Bob Monkhouse. We appreciate the joke. My personal experience does not allow me to say whether that is true or false.
The Bible quite clearly teaches, however, that it is not true; and social study after social study shows that money fails to buy happiness. Incomes in the UK have increased in real terms threefold since 1950 but contentment levels have barely shifted. European research indicates that lottery winners revert to their previous levels of happiness within a year of their windfall. No! Money cannot buy happiness.
There are psychological reasons for this. Material possessions are vulnerable to what is now called the "hedonic treadmill". We quickly get used to new things and they become part of our norm. As you read in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes 5.10:
“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income”
This morning in our series on The Blessing of Giving we are to look at 1Timothy 6.17-19. Our title is Providing. Let me begin with a few words of introduction. The Bible has a lot to say about money, wealth and giving. It is estimated that 15 percent of Jesus’ teaching relates to money and wealth, which is more even than he spoke about heaven and hell! And for Jesus your attitude to money and wealth shows where your heart really is. He said,
“where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matt 6.21)
Paul, too, taught about money and wealth. And he taught that the rich have to be warned of the sin of greed. Unless there is a surprising exception, everyone here this morning, in real terms, is rich; and some, in real terms, are super rich while some, super-super rich.
Why do I say that? Well, it has been estimated that nearly half the world's population live on less that £1.10 a day (£400 a year). So because we are all rich, even though in relative UK terms we may be poor, we need to examine ourselves regarding greed. It is a fact that, in terms of the percentage of their incomes, in the UK population at large, the rich give much less than the poor. The richest one fifth give, on average, 1 percent of their income while the poorest one fifth give 3 percent. This was the same in New Testament times. The poor Macedonians were more faithful givers than the richer Corinthians (as we saw in the Home Groups this past week). Ephesus was another rich city - and this is where Timothy, Paul's young friend, is ministering. And Paul says that Timothy has to challenge the rich in Ephesus. In fact, verse 17 says he has to "command those who are rich." He is to give them orders. It is that serious. This is not advice. This is black and white. Well, so much by way of introduction.
I just want to be very simple in the minutes that remain and look at these three verses under three headings: first, WHAT NOT TO DO; secondly, WHAT TO DO; and thirdly, WHY DO ALL THIS?
First, WHAT NOT TO DO
The first prohibition - or command "not to" - is at the beginning of verse 17:
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant.”
In New Testament times the rich could be quite unpleasant. The Roman poet Horace penned the famous lines:
“I hate the common people and keep them away from me.”
Since the beginning of the Welfare State and a more egalitarian society, you may get less of that unpleasantness from the rich in the UK. But, of course, that is not the worst arrogance or pride. The worst arrogance or pride is towards God. There is that warning we heard last week in Deuteronomy 8.17-18:
“You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
Deuteronomy describes this as your "heart becoming proud" as you forget the Lord your God. So remember it is God who gave you your upbringing, your education, the possibility of your job or however it is you acquire your income. Behind all that goes on is the sovereign work of God controlling and directing and giving you strength. So do not be arrogant with respect to your wealth or possessions.
Next, in terms of what not to do, verse 17 says, those who are rich are not ...
“to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain.”
Currently, of new businesses 56 percent will have failed within four years. Not all are like Shell with £13.9 billion in annual profits last year. Wealth is uncertain as Jerome Kerviel who has lost his bank €4.9 billion now knows. Randy Alcorn puts it so well:
“It’s not just that wealth might be lost; it’s because wealth will always be lost. Either it leaves us while we live, or we leave it when we die. There is no exception.”
So do not put your hope in wealth which is so uncertain. That brings us ...
Secondly, to WHAT TO DO
First, note what the rich at Ephesus are not commanded. They are not first told to get rid of all their wealth. We live in a materialist world. Materialism is an idolatry. This is putting material things before God. It is wrong. But we should not jump out of the frying pan of materialism into the fire of a gnostic asceticism or super-spirituality where matter is seen as evil.
This past week I read an article in a theological journal entitled, "Would Jesus wear Prada?" I found it instructive, not least because I thought Prada was the old flagship Communist newspaper of the Soviet era.
I learnt that Prada can be a brand of shoes that you do not buy in Marks and Spencers. Apparently a pair of red Prada high heels can set you back £637! So would Jesus have worn the male version of those shoes? The issue is luxuries - are they ever right?
Proverbs in the Old Testament certainly warns about luxuries - Proverbs 15.17:
“Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.”
But Paul has just told Timothy in chapter 4 verse 4 that:
“everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”
That qualification is vital – “if it is received with thanksgiving”. To quote Ben Underwood (the author of the article on Prada shoes):
“When we see God has given us something for our good and the good of those around us, and when we receive it on those terms, we can thank God truly. When we use it for selfish or evil purposes, we can't. You can thank God for the beauty and quality of Prada shoes; you can't thank God for their power to intimidate your rivals.”
So what would Jesus have said to luxuries? What we know is that Jesus was not a penny-pinching killjoy. At the wedding in Cana of Galilee, to reveal his glory, he turned water into not Tesco's cheapest but the highest quality wine (John 2.11). Then Mary, we are told, anointed Jesus with costly perfume worth nearly a year's wages (John 12.3-8) - we are talking £20,000 - or Victoria-Beckham-price perfumes! And Judas criticized Jesus for allowing this. The perfume, he said, could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus would have none of it. Of course, his mission was to
“preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4.18).
Of course, he knew what it was to be homeless. Of course, he taught that
"it is more blessed to give than to receive."
On this occasion, however, it was better to honour Jesus with expensive perfume than help the poor. Somehow it was a symbolic statement of the value of Jesus' death on the cross, which not only the poor but the whole world needs to know about.
So in terms of “what to do”, the rich here aren’t all first told to get rid of their money.
No! The first thing Timothy is to say to the rich is, verse 17b, that they are...
“to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
They are to trust in God – the true God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Who, here this morning, has never done that? Why not do so? For our God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment”. God wants us to enjoy life. You see, when people use his gifts that are for this world - like money (and sex) - in the way God intends, there is pleasure. In fact, on average, there is more pleasure than when you use his gifts in ways contrary to his will. Study after study is now confirming the sanity of Biblical ethics.
Money in itself is neutral. It is a form of power and power is neutral. If you have it you have it, if you don't you don't. The moral questions are simply these, "how did you get it?" and "how are you going to use it?" So if you have got money and it was not acquired immorally, the key issue now is "how are you going to use it or spend it." And Paul says the rich are to do four things – implying they should use their money in doing them.
First, Timothy is, verse 18, to...
“... command them [the rich] to do good.”
What is doing good? At the heart of doing good is keeping those two great commandments to,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength [and to] love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12.30-31)
But if God has to come first, money cannot –
“you cannot”, said Jesus, “serve both God and money” (Mat 6.24).
And remember, from God's perspective, you are a steward, not an owner. The Bible says:
Psalm 24.1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”
Haggai 2.8 “'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty”
1 Cor 6.19-20 “You are not your own; you were bought at a price”
Wesley understood this so well. There was an occasion when someone rushed up to John Wesley and said,
“Mr Wesley, something terrible has happened! Your house has burned to the ground.”
Wesley pondered and then replied,
“No! The Lord's house burned to the ground. That means one less responsibility for me.”
You shouldn't think like owners but stewards. For one day each one of us will give an account of our stewardship - Romans 14.10,12:
“For we will all stand before God's judgment seat ... each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
So you and I need to make sure we spend our money in the ways that God would want. For some it will mean giving great quantities away. For all it will mean spending in areas under our own control responsibly. That will include family responsibilities. Paul has just told Timothy in chapter 5 verse 8 of this letter:
“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
So the rich are to do good. But
... secondly, they are (verse 18) “to be rich in good deeds”. This is a different word for “good” here. Sometimes it can mean “beautiful”. It draws attention to what is desirable about “the good”. The God who has created this beautiful world, seems not to want his kingdom to be ugly and drab.
For that reason, within the budget, we wanted the architect to make Holy Trinity Gateshead as elegant and pleasant as possible. The budget is now for the on going work of the church. But if there is a donor we would like to erect the modern free-standing spire the architect has designed. Of course there is no magic about a building. But what does it say when you have beautiful houses and elegant buildings for music and business, yet where Christians meet it is ugly and drab or dysfunctional.
Thirdly, the rich are to be “generous”. As we have noted, the rich, on average, are less generous than the poor. But the encouraging news is that according to a survey by Christian Research, I quote:
“evangelical Christians care for and use their money very differently from the average person in the UK. They are considerably more generous in their giving”.
The average of evangelical giving was 12 percent of their household income. This is 9 times the average level of charitable giving in the UK population, which is estimated at 1.4 percent. And UK evangelicals give more than American evangelicals.
Only 23 percent of American evangelicals claim to give 10 percent or more to their church. By contrast 31 percent of UK evangelicals give more than 10 percent to their church. Nor is this because Evangelical Christians are richer. The survey found that their average household income was only 17 percent above the national average. (That 17 percent may prove Wesley's point, and social studies after him, that Christians improve financially, on average, because of their lifestyles and beliefs; the problem then, Wesley said, is that as they get richer they get seduced by their riches and they drift spiritually.)
I quote those figures from Christian Research for encouragement. I do not know what individual people give at this church. I never look at our books. Giving is confidential. But these figures would suggest we can thank God that there are many at this church who have really discovered the truth of Jesus claim that
“it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
May be, however, there are some who can and should be generous but are not. Perhaps, for you, this last "to do" point is helpful.
For, fourthly, the rich are to be "willing to share" (the end of verse 18). The word suggests being identified with the Christian fellowship. So it is not to be just a matter of the cheque book and the regular standing order. That, I may say is so important. And can I encourage you in that. But then you need to continue to be interested and praying.
This is to do with the "heart" and leads to "cheerfulness" in giving. The more you understand about Christian work - some mission cause, for example, - the more you will give cheerfully. The more you understand all the different work going on at JPC, the more you will understand why we need to give to God for this work here at JPC.
So “do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share.” Finally my...
...third, heading, WHY DO ALL THIS?
It is not that you can buy your salvation or your way into heaven. That is free, by grace and through faith. So we give because God first gives to us - supremely in Jesus and his life, death and resurrection. However, Paul, like Jesus before him, emphasizes the wisdom of giving – how in reality it is a blessing. For Christian giving, the Bible teaches, is win-win. Look at verse 19:
“In this way they [the rich] 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.”
Paul is saying that if you follow God’s instructions with regard to your money and possessions, you have a rock solid investment. This world is going to end. Christ will return. There is going to be a “coming age”. Financial planners make people take a longer view – 20, 30 or 40 years down the track. But the Bible says, “have an eternity-view” – billions or zillions of years, if I may put it like that. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had said,
“store up for yourselves treasure in heaven” (Mat 6.20).
You see, as you give to God’s work here on earth, the kingdom extends, others are blessed and so are you, both now and in eternity. So why should you “do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share?” Because, says Paul, this is the way to “life that is truly life”.