Not wealth but God

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This advert caught my eye the other day:

Love it. Need it. Want it. Have it. Enjoy a little more. Enjoy it today. Love … the jeans that cry out for the bag that matches the shoes that look great with the shirt that needs the jacket the same colour as the vest that goes with the necklace that matches the earrings you could buy on your [credit] card.

On the same day, this article was in the paper:

CREDIT CARD JUNKIES TURN TO THE BANKRUPTCY COURT TO CLEAR DEBTS. Thousands of people, particularly those in prosperous towns, are choosing to go bankrupt to extricate themselves from a web of unsecured debt. In the final three months of last year a record 13,000 people were declared insolvent, 35% more than in the same period in 2003.

Now, I realise that our finances are a sensitive subject.

According to research, one in five Britons suffers from financialphobia, a recognisable condition rendering them unable to handle their personal finances. Sufferers are often left feeling anxious, bored or guilty when they’re faced with routine money matters… Despite efforts to persuade them to take responsibility for their affairs, many sufferers will avoid doing so at all costs. Under 35s are most likely to suffer. 45% suffer a racing heart, 12% feel physically ill, 11% feel dizzy and 15% become immobilised. I quote: “Some people felt ill at the thought of dealing with their finances.” “They are petrified about discovering what state their finances are in.”

It might be hard, but it’s vital we do it, because how we handle our finances is a very practical indicator of how we’re handling our lives. And the best way to discover the fate of our finances is not to look at our bank statements, but to look at the Scriptures. The Bible lays bare before us our financial condition far more thoroughly than any bank manager could ever do.

The Christian life is a nonsense unless you’re clear that it’s all in preparation for eternal life beyond the grave. That certainly applies when you consider the subject of how we should handle money. The Bible is clear that a right attitude to money has tremendous benefits. But get it wrong, and there are great dangers.

That’s what Paul makes clear. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul is acting as Timothy’s independent financial adviser, and he is training Timothy to do the same job for those he teaches. Paul has just been warning Timothy about the false teachers who had the potential to wreck people’s faith and cause devastation in the church. And he says that one of the things motivating what they’re doing is the prospect of financial gain. They’re using religion to make money.

So in these verses Paul tackles two issues. Firstly: the wrong attitude to wealth is deadly dangerous. Then secondly: the right use of wealth brings great benefits.


Firstly, THE WRONG ATTITUDE TO WEALTH IS DEADLY DANGEROUS

The apostle Paul speaks of four dangers if our attitude to money is wrong. The first two relate especially to those who aspire to having more money (whether or not they’ve got it). The second two relate particularly to those who’ve got the wealth that others only dream of.

First, there is the danger of wanting to get rich. If we do that, we fall into a lethal trap. The right attitude to wealth that avoids that danger is to be content with what we have. 6.9:

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.

The danger is that the more you have, the more you want. The desire to be rich is a snare, Paul says. A snare is something that’s made as attractive as possible to its intended victim. And at the same time it’s made as damaging as possible. So what seems like a tasty bit of cheese to a mouse is actually its sentence of death.

The growth of debt in this country suggests that a very large proportion of us want more money than we’ve got. We want to get rich. The amount of money now owed by consumers in this country is £1 trillion. That’s a 1 with 12 noughts after it – a million million.

But look at verse 6:

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

A godly life is a life lived to please God. And contentment comes through appreciating simple blessings. Verse 8:

... if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that ...

And verse 17, the second half:

God … richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Wealth isn’t wrong in itself – far from it. God doesn’t want us to covet what we don’t have. But he does want us to relish what he gives us. And he gives us so much – not least food and water and clothing and a shelter over our heads. We need to appreciate all the simple blessings God gives us. Because always wanting more is dangerous.

Secondly, there’s the related danger of loving money. If we do that, then we’re planting in our lives a poisonous root that can easily lead us away from our faith in Christ and (ironically) into all kinds of suffering. 6.10:

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.

You see, there is only room for one all consuming passion and purpose in our lives. That passion needs to be our love for Christ; that purpose needs to be to follow him. If we love money more than we love God – that’s deadly.

Thirdly, there’s the danger of arrogance. This arrogance flows from a failure to understand that it’s God who is the source of wealth and not us. The right attitude to wealth that avoids this danger is simply thankfulness – because we realise that it all belongs to him. 6.17:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant…

One of the great temptations if we’re rich is the pride that so easily comes with the money.
One Sunday, in a tiny country church, there was a special collection for missionary work at the end of the service. Most of the parishioners were poor but they gave generously. Finally, the bag came round to the lady of the manor. She turned away haughtily. "I do not give money to missions", she said. "Then take some out of the bag, your ladyship," said the verger, "this money is for the heathen."

If your image of yourself is that you’re standing high up on a mound of money, then you’ll think you can look down on all those around you who’ve hardly got off the ground financially speaking.

Back in v 7 Paul reminds us:

... we brought nothing into the world...

It’s failing to understand this that leads to the arrogance of the rich. God made us. Christ died for us. Our personal worth isn’t measured by our bank balance. We don’t need to look up to those who have more money than us. And we can’t look down on those who have less – which for most of us is a large part of the world’s population. Arrogance is dangerous.

Fourthly, there’s the danger of putting your hope in wealth. And it’s dangerous because wealth is extremely uncertain. The right attitude to wealth that avoids this danger is to put our hope in God instead. 6.17 again:

Command those who are rich in this present world not… to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God…

The temptation is to think that we can rely on money. We think money is what makes us secure. We think we can safely build our lives on it. But we can’t. It gives way under us.

The actor Marlon Brando once said:

I’ve had so much misery in my life from being wealthy and famous.

Wealth is an uncertain business even in this life. But of one thing you can be sure: you cannot take it with you. You just leave it behind for others. Verse 7:

… we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

A while ago the papers reported the will of a reclusive spinster. She left £450,000 to her two dogs (Tina and Kate – both collies).

You won’t be taking your wallet to heaven – or your purse, or your piggy bank. That is a very simple fact. But it is very simply overlooked by vast swathes of humanity. Take it to heart, and the chains of slavery to cash fall off. You can’t take it with you. There’s great freedom to be had if this principle becomes a truth by which we order our financial affairs. So use it well, while you can, by keeping your focus on heaven, not earth. And don’t trust money. Trust God. Which leads me to my second main heading:


Secondly, THE RIGHT USE OF WEALTH BRINGS GREAT BENEFITS

The right use of wealth is to do good – to do lots of good. 6.18:

Command them [that’s those who have earthly wealth] to do good, to be rich in good deeds.

And the right use of wealth is to give. 6.18 again:

[Command those who have earthly wealth] to be generous and willing to share.

Too many of us think we’re people, when in practice we don’t ever give anything much anyway. What does it mean to be generous? It means that we give lots to other people.

We need to train ourselves in generosity. It’s something we learn. There is no gene for it. It doesn’t come naturally. It is a question of obeying the command of Scripture. And we train ourselves to be generous by doing it. So be generous. Sit down, think through your finances, and practice being generous. Let’s strengthen our generosity muscles – and learn to enjoy giving to others what God gives us.

Then it’s no longer a question of “what’s the minimum that I can get away with giving”. Instead, there’s an inner desire to give which makes it more satisfying to give money than to keep it.

That was the testimony of one couple, speaking about their own giving: ‘People ask us, “Why do you do it?” We just say, “It’s because God’s been good to us, so we want to give back.”’

What would you rather do: give money or get money? . Listen to Jesus, as reported by Paul in Acts 20.35:

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

In other words, if we had our heads screwed on and our thinking straight, we’d know immediately what we’d rather do: we’d rather give. There’s more blessing in that. So let’s be radical, and take Jesus at his word.

The right use of wealth is to do good, and to give.

Then the first benefit of the right use of wealth is treasure in heaven for the giver. In 6.19 Paul says this of those who put generosity into action by giving freely:

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.

The fact of the matter is that earthly riches don’t necessarily bring any real benefit to their possessor. Take these super-rich Americans: John D. Rockefeller lamented,

“I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”

Cornelius Vanderbilt commented,

“The care of millions is too great a load… there is no pleasure in it.”

John Jacob Astor once called himself

“the most miserable man on earth.”

When you invest your earthly money in spiritual priorities, your return may not be in Sterling. It may be paid instead in the currency of glory given to God, and lives turned towards Christ, and real needs met, and others encouraged and inspired to give of themselves and their resources, and peace and joy, and a deeper knowledge of God, and a new willingness to give yourself even more wholeheartedly. But whatever the currency is, be sure of this: you will get a return - a hundred times over. You will lay up treasure for eternity. That’s the promise.

The second benefit of the right use of wealth is the good done to the receivers. And I don’t mean the receivers who looks after bankrupt businesses! I mean those who are on the receiving end of all the good deeds and generous sharing of the wealthy who use their wealth wisely. That, of course, is what Paul has in mind when he says in 6.18 that the rich should do good and be rich in good deeds.

One young man was motivated by all that God had given him to give a year of his life to work for a local church. The church couldn’t pay him, but he had a paid day job to support himself. He kept what he needed to cover board and lodging, and the rest he gave to the church. That money enabled two other volunteer youth workers to come to the church for a year. His generosity enabled opportunites to be taken for the gospel.

Another man whose passion for the gospel and for giving money for the good of others was George Muller, who was a preacher in the 19th Century. Early in his ministry something Jesus said had a profound impact on him. It was this, from Luke 6.38:

‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’

Muller decided that he should trust God for his daily needs. He began to give away everything he received except what was needed for his basic subsistence. God honoured his trust, and over his lifetime Muller founded 5 orphanages which were home to 10,000 children; he established 7 day schools that educated 80,000 children; he set up 12 Sunday Schools that taught over 30,000 children; he distributed 2 million Bibles and 3 million tracts; and he gave £26,000 to overseas mission. Over the 60 years of his ministry he gave away £1.5 million – at a time when you could buy a house for a few pounds.

Recently we were back in Bristol and drove up what is now Muller Road. We used to live near there, not far from one of his orphanages, which by then had become a school. Those buildings were a constant challenge to my generosity.

George Muller became a wealthy man – but not for himself. He avoided the deadly dangers of a wrong attitude to wealth. He didn’t want to get rich for himself but was content with what he had. He didn’t love money but he loved God. He wasn’t arrogant but he was thankful. He didn’t put his hope in wealth but he trusted God. And as a result his right use of wealth brought great benefits. He piled up treasure in heaven, and he did a mountain of good to thousands of others. When it came to his handling of money, George Muller took the Bible seriously. Let’s do the same.

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