Freedom – Generosity Step 2 (Generosity 2 / Matthew 19:16ff.; etal.)
Cigarettes come with warning labels. Money is far more dangerous, and in an eternal way. God-like generosity frees us from all of its dangers.
One of the cardinal points of my sermon last week is that God is always working for our “sanctification” – part of that is to make us generous givers like Him and His Son.
But at the same time, we live in a fallen world where Satan is plotting and working to “to sift us like wheat” and make us all “children of hell.” He delights in our greed and selfishness and wildly rejoices when he can make anything our owner and master besides God! We all know that at times that anything is a thirst for power, sometimes a love of pleasure, but most often, it’s money and what money can buy – material thing (materialism). Money usually brings those other things.
Before you harrumph and say, “Money will never own me!”, check your bank statements and clothes and shoes in your closets; check what’s in your “nest egg,” ponder the size of your house and the gleam and glitter of your vehicles, investi-gate the time and energy you put into your recreation and hobbies, and go back to read your DayTimers to review the autobiography you’re writing there.
It’s a serious spiritual matter… The dangers of accumulated wealth create great disturbances in our relationships, both personal and public. Throughout His ministry, Jesus sternly warned any who accumulated any kind of a surplus of wealth. His warnings would apply to churches who hoard their money, too. His constant message was, “Watch out. Handle wealth as you would dynamite. Think of it as God’s tool in your hands. Use it for His glory. Harness its power to bring about good in your life.” Used wisely, wealth can blast away deep spiritual darkness and great human need; used unwisely, it can and will blow up in the face of the user and destroy him.
Here’s an interesting question: If “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” would it not be true that the love of giving money away moves us away from all kinds of evil? Freedom from evil is our goal, a beautiful thing!
But Satan tells us, “More, is better, and then more again is better still” as he relentlessly tries to trap us and move us away from “life that is life indeed.”
Let’s look together at some hindrances that distract us from a pattern of consis-tent, generous, joyful giving. Jesus pointed out the dangers in our “stuff” again and again. If we can see wealth’s pitfalls, and live to avoid them, that alone will move us toward freedom and “true life.”
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? (Matthew 6:25).
Everybody lives in fear. We may appear to “have it all together,” and boast there’s no fret or worry in our life, but the truth still remains that we are vulner-able to the harsh eventualities of life. Worry is the proof of our deep fear.
The people here with Jesus worried about where their next bite of food would come from, about rooves over their heads for protection from the elements, walls and strong doors to keep evil men, and about shoes and clothes. We’re not very different… except generally far better off. We bank on our goods and our money buying us more time and comfort as we live out our years – protection from bad things that might happen. But the truth is that our worries and fears gnaw at us and we address them by accumulating more stuff.
Jesus told His hearers, “Look at creation!” And implied, “Haven’t you seen it? The birds and flowers, and God’s provision for them?” They never worry because God feeds and cares for them… “Never did worry extend life by a single hour.”
Though some say, “What… me worry?”, and show no sign of anxiety or panic… we still can see them working frantically, eagle-eyeing bank accounts and Wall Street portfolios and pension plans, always alert to see if some monstrous thing out there somewhere is catching up to them.
Jesus reminded them of unbelievers (“pagans”) – how it’s an expected thing for them to worry since they have no God to trust or to pray to for help. How do people survive without an all-powerful God who’s intimately aware of their lives and needs? Believers know Him not only as God, we know Him as a loving Father always present and watching. Worry for us should melt like ice melts in the Arkansas summer sun.
Just then, a man came up to Jesus. He asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?”
17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only one who is good. If you want to enter the kingdom, obey the commandments…” “I have obeyed all those commandments,” the young man said. “What else do I need to do?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have. Give the money to those who are poor. You will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad. He was very rich. (Matthew 19:16-22 excerpts).
Do we see the danger in asking Jesus, “What do I lack?” When this young man asked, he got an invitation with a giant condition attached: “Go, sell all you have and give the proceeds away (to the poor) to put your treasure in heaven, and then come and follow me.”
There’s a bit of a Bible puzzle here: does God want His children to have wealth and possessions to enjoy or not? For some reason, with this young man, no! But with others – Abraham, for example – God gives no such condition. The unravel-ing of this seeming contradiction comes by looking at hearts. Jesus saw that this young man’s wealth owned his heart – riches were his life, his “god,” and he wor-shipped at its altar. Abraham’s heart wasn’t fixed on his wealth. But remember, while it’s true God didn’t ask Abraham for his money, He did ask him for his son. With both of these men, God demanded whatever controlled their heart – their other “god” – be laid on the altar.
We can see “the young man went away sorrowful” and we have no further word of him… But think with me a minute… what if he had gone away, thought it over, decided to take Jesus’ challenge, began to give his wealth away, and went back the next day telling Jesus what he was doing and he was now ready to follow. Don’t you suppose Jesus would have told him the same thing God His Father told Abraham… “Stop… now I know that you love me more than anything!”?
If we would be generous givers we should lock this teaching of Jesus in our minds and throw away the key. He speaks to us all in reference to a major temptation every wealthy person has… namely, Satan saying “I’ll give you all kinds of things if you’ll fall down and worship me [or anything but God].” But remember, Jesus said, “[We] cannot worship both God and money [or anything else].”
Someone in the crowd spoke to Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “tell my brother to divide the family property with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge or umpire between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has.” (Luke 12:13-15).
When you think about it, both brothers appear greedy. Jesus wouldn’t solve their problem. Instead, He seized the occasion to warn His disciples about greed and give us more advice that should be tucked away in the heart of anyone wishing to be a generous giver: “life is not made up of how much a person has.”
Greed is simply a desire and drive to increase ones “holdings” and defend them at all costs. It always creates bad behavior and hard feelings. It arises in the dark, fearful part of our heart and tells us that we don’t have enough, we’ll never have enough, and that money will solve all problems… “More!”
Jesus’ gives a command a General would give to a sentry on the wall: “Watch out; be fully alert!” Greed’s an enemy that sneaks in and eats away the generous heart. Wherever we are on the path of growing into God’s likeness, we’re a step away from being caught in the gravitational pull of greed. Ask Adam and Eve!
A old story is told about the King of Siam dealing with his enemies. He would always send them a white elephant as a gift. Since albino elephants were considered to be of great value – even mystical value – the enemy had no choice but to give it great attention and care… so much so that over time, spending time, energy, and resources on the elephant rendered the enemy completely defenseless.
Isn’t Satan giving “white elephants” away to folks today? To many would-be Christians, too? We’re rich compared to the world; we spend great amounts of time guarding and tending our white “prosperity” elephant, and being destroyed by it.
A generous-like-God heart is asking to find opportunities to share; greed is asking about locations to build more space to store stuff. The greedy farmer did exactly that. But he failed to consider something he could not control: death. We might control assets, but we can’t control time. Our society is a “build-bigger-barns” society! But, here’s Jesus’ formula to escape it: the more blessed we are, the more we should consider our wealth’s power for good or for evil, and the more we must remember that God attaches accountability to every gift He gives.
MYTH OF INDEPENDENCE
“Not long after, the younger son gathered all he had and set off for a distant country where he squandered away his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13).
Here’s a son who thought he was independent, free to choose whatever lifestyle he wanted, and to go and do whatever he wished whenever and wherever he wished. Most in our culture nowadays call that “freedom.” And true, for a brief moment, it appeared that he had it made.
But his wild living came to a humbling halt. When famine hit, his funds were spent – he had nothing; he “was in need.” Wow, do we ever fear being in need! Our money and stuff creates an illusion of independence in us that says, “I need no one; I will control my own life.” But, just as it was with this son, life shows us we are not independent at all and money can’t buy us out of every difficulty.
The story teaches us several lessons. But for today let’s just study this young man at the point of his total defeat. He was now a Jew feeding pigs and eating their slop. His deplorable state is where we’ll self-absorption will put us all except for the grace of God. It had led him to his only “out”… taking the road home.
MONEY AND GOD
“No one can serve two masters at the same time. …you will hate one of them and love the other. Or you will be faithful to one and dislike the other. You can’t serve God and money at the same time.”
In a sense, God and wealth are opposites; we can even consider them opponents. It is not possible for us to be at the same time totally committed to pursuing mo-ney and totally committed to pursuing God.
Then we would be wise – Jesus even advised it – when we have surplus – more than we need – to realize we sit right on the edge of going to Mammon’s side and leaving God. Think about it… to the wealthy person Satan says, “You have money and can do for yourself. Why pray? You have lots of stuff… why depend on God?” The bottom line is that people with wealth have a tough time lining up our priorities with Jesus’ kingdom purposes… as hard as “a camel going through the eye of a needle.”
Jesus’ is clear. We have to decide about who/what is our god/God. And we have to do it every day… when paycheck or allowance or inheritance comes in, lest it captivate it with its allure. Our treasure must be in heaven first, last, always.
It’s noteworthy that this event in Jesus’ ministry ends with Jesus being mocked… what people usually do when threatened by the truth. Are you mocking today?
Repent… change… begin to obey.