Laying Up Treasure

A while ago I read about a retired couple - let's call them Robert and Susan. At that stage they were living in North West London. Robert used to be a train driver. Susan said:

Back in 1956 I was earning a nice little salary as a nursery nurse. But I gave it up so I could spend time working for the church - for nearly 40 years I've been doing visits, Bible studies... it takes a lot of my time, but I enjoy it immensely. Robert's salary meant we were never in want, and we could still covenant to the church. When he retired, we had to stop the covenant because he wasn't paying any tax, but we still gave the same amount. Our income dropped right down, but we got by. I like to give from my housekeeping too - what I can.

Both of them feel that their regular giving in good times and in bad has brought them great blessing. They say:

People ask us, why do you do it? And we just say, its because God's been good to us, so we want to give back. And they say, "Well, it's all right for you." And we say, "Well, there's no pot of gold here."

If you are interviewed towards the end of your life, what will be your account of how you have used your money? Robert and Susan have obviously learned a thing or two about the right approach. I wonder if they learned it by taking to heart what the apostle Paul teaches on the subject. I imagine they did. And we can do the same. So let's look at Paul's 1st letter to Timothy 6.6-19. The Christian life is a nonsense unless you are clear that it is all in preparation for eternal life beyond the grave. That certainly applies when you consider the subject of giving, as we do over these two weeks of our annual Giving Review. My title this evening is "Laying up Treasure", and it refers to the fact that our giving is an investment. So Paul says in v19 that those who are generous and willing to share... "will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age..." Paul is mixing his metaphors here. That is his habit. On the one hand, he is speaking of laying up in store a great treasure. So giving money now is setting aside an eternal treasure trove for us. Then on the other hand he speaks of putting down a good foundation for a building to go on - stable and secure. And the building is our eternal life. Now let's be clear at the outset that Paul is not undercutting the gospel by teaching that we buy our salvation. He is not encouraging a kind of giving that is really self-seeking masquerading as generosity. The truth is that God has already given every spiritual blessing in Christ. Godly giving is always a response to God's earlier generosity to us. What we can and should say if we are going to be faithful to the Scriptures is that a right attitude to and use of money does have tremendous benefits. Those benefits become all the more clear when we look at from the opposite direction and consider the disadvantages and dangers of having wrong approaches to money. And that is what I would like us to do. Now in verses 6-10 and then 17-19 Paul addresses two main issues to do with personal finance. He is acting as Timothy's Independent Personal Financial adviser, and he is training to do the same job for those he teaches. I have set out those issues in my two main headings on the outline that is on the back of the service sheet. First, WHY WE SHOULD BE WARY ABOUT WANTING WEALTH. Then secondly, HOW TO BE HAPPY WITH HOWEVER MUCH WE HAVE. First, WHY WE SHOULD BE WARY OF WANTING WEALTH. Put simply, the desire for wealth trips us, and then traps us. 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. 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.

Money is powerful stuff. Dynamite. It has great power for good. But an uncontrolled explosion of its power can and does cause havoc. Wrongly handled, it is exceedingly dangerous. Like an explosive that becomes more and more unstable as time goes by, until it is liable at any moment to blow up in your face. Except of course such explosions do not generally cause physical injury. The damage is done to our relationship with God. Then the shock waves from that affect every other aspect of our lives. One danger of money is that it stirs up greed. Like the latest catalogue that comes through your door with all the latest things that are right up your street. The more you have, the more you want. The desire to be rich is a snare, Paul says. A trap. A snare of course is something that is made as attractive as possible to its intended victim. And at the same time it is made as damaging as possible. So what seems like a tasty bit of cheese to a mouse is actually its sentence of death. How well have we understood that? The desire to be rich is to us what the rodent's craving for that cheese on the trap is to them. It looks, oh so harmless and delectable, that little lump of cheddar on its ever so conveniently placed wooden platter. Once the craving for money gets a grip, then faith is threatened. 6:10:

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 purpose in our lives. That purpose needs to be to follow Christ. Our purpose in life should not to follow the gleam of imagined gold. Another danger of money is that it inclines its possessors to pride. Verse 17:

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

If money is important to you, then you almost inevitably make it a measure of you. If your image of yourself is that you are standing high up on a mound of money, then you will think that you can look down on all those around you who have hardly got off the ground financially speaking. That is a dangerous distortion. Why? Because of a third danger of money, which is that it is a false foundation. It may seem OK as something to build your life on. But it's like building your house with shallow foundations on an old rubbish tip full of rotting garbage. You may get away with it for a while. But the time will come when your life will come crashing down around your ears. Wealth cannot take the strain that life puts on it. So James 1:11 says:

... the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Think of your earthly life as the life of short lived plant that cannot stand the heat. You will shortly wither away. Do not build your hope for a stable and lasting future on cash in the bank. It will disappoint you. But the other side of that coin is that a right attitude to money is a very effective hedge against financial recession. If you're not leaning heavily on money, then you don't fall over when it goes. All the inherent dangers of hanging on to money as our chief means of support can be summed up in what we might call the Scrooge Factor. Paul puts it in this way in 2Corinthians 9:6:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.

Or to put it in other words: The more you don't give, the more you don't get. Those who are eager for money end up "pierced with many griefs" (v10). Those who want to get rich end up plunged into ruin and destruction (v9). Take your stand on money and it collapses beneath you. But we find it difficult! We do love money! It is intensely seductive! So here's the second, and positive, side to what the apostle has to say to us, as to Timothy. My second heading,

HOW TO BE HAPPY WITH HOWEVER MUCH YOU HAVE.

Here then are five principles for the successful handing of the green stuff. Principle one: The greatest gain comes not through gold but godliness. Take a look at verse 6:

But godliness with contentment is great gain.

A godly life is a life lived to please God. It is a God-centred life. And a God-centred life is turned outward by him to those around. Then the needs around us no longer a threat to our security. Instead, they become an opportunity to give assistance. So, verse 18:

Command [the rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds ...

When you invest like that, 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 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. I read of another man, call him Tim. He is a solicitor on the south coast. He used to give a tenth of everything: half to his local church and half to various other Christian organisations. That, as it happens, is the recommendation that you will find on our giving literature. Anyhow, Tim suffered two major setbacks. He was made redundant. And he lost a big part of his savings through a bad investment. His future, humanly speaking, was uncertain in the least. But this is what he said: We do not believe in a pain free God. I have faith that God will direct me to a new future and meanwhile I continue to give back to him what I can , although I am having to be very careful indeed now over my personal expenditure and there is virtually no money left over to give back, so I have increased the time I give to him. I think my relationship with God has drawn closer while I have suffered and I have come to appreciate more and more what God has done for me. That is a great blessing. Make godliness, not gold, your goal. That is the first principle. Number two is this: Our personal worth is not measured by the size of our bank balance. I take it that that is the implication of the first half of verse 7:

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

It is failing to understand this that leads to the arrogance of the rich that Paul speaks of in v17. God made us. Christ died for us. That is sufficient grounds for self-respect. We do not need to look up to those who have more any more than those who have more should look down on those who have less. Contentment is a product of seeing ourselves as God sees us. You are valuable because God values you, not because your accountant values you. Third principle: Earthly possessions are just that: only earthly possessions. Look at the how verse 7 ends:

... we can take nothing out of [the world] ...

Wealth is an uncertain business even in this life. But of one thing you can be sure: you cannot take it with you. You will not be taking your credit cards to heaven. 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 fall off. There is great freedom to be had if this principle becomes a truth that we live with day by day and order our lives by. You can't take it with you. So use it well, while you can. Think heaven, not earth. Number four: Contentment comes through appreciating simple blessings. Verse 8:

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

And verse 17 again, the second half:

Command those who are rich... to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

God wants us to relish what he gives us. And he gives us so much. Saying grace before meals as a mere thoughtless formality is worse than pointless. But saying grace before meals and meaning it is genuinely life-transforming. Why? Because it cultivates gratitude. A wholesome enjoyment and thankfulness for the simple blessings of life is a powerful antidote to craving after more. We need to appreciate what is in front of our noses. Don't wait until things are taken from you before you take the trouble to notice what God has given you. Enjoy using what God gives you. And the fifth and final principle is simply this: We should be generous and willing to share. The second part of verse 18:

Command [the rich] ... to be generous and willing to share.

Too many of us regard ourselves as generous people, without ever giving anything much anyway. What does it mean to be generous? It means that we give lots to other people. It may not be much in comparison with Bill Gates. But it's a lot to us. If you can't in all honesty think of a generous gesture you've made, then let me make a suggestion that could change your life. Plan a generous action. Then carry out your plan. In this case it is not the thought that counts. It is the doing of it. Train yourself in generosity. Because it is something we learn. There is no gene for it. It doesn't come naturally. It is a question of obeying the command of Scripture. Be generous. Enjoy giving to others what God gives you. So there are five principles that add up to a recipe for contentment with however much you've got. Make godliness not gold your goal. Know your true value. Think heaven. Enjoy using what God has given you. And then enjoy giving it away. If you are a Christian, that is the kind of person God is making you: a godly, glory-bound, grateful and generous person. A person who is laying up treasure in heaven.

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