As we rapidly approach Christmas the signs of the season in our country don't seem to be peace and good will but greed and materialism. Christmas is no doubt the most materialistic holiday we celebrate. So, I thought it would be good to talk about materialism as we prepare for Christmas.
A man living in Southern California was on his way to work one morning in his brand new BMW. Suddenly, the Big one hit: the earth began to tremble under his wheels and the car was swallowed by the earth. The man was seriously injured, but as he climbed out of the wreckage, he didn't even notice that his left arm had been cut off at the elbow. He just stood by the side of the road, viewing the wreckage and crying out "Oh no, my Beemer, my Beemer!" A man who had witnessed the disaster said to him, "How can you be crying about your car? Don't you realize that your arm has been cut off?" The man looked down in horror at his missing limb and said, "Oh no! My Rolex! My Rolex!"
That story is not too far from depicting reality. There is no question that we live in a materialistic society, and that money is the driving force behind much of what happens in our daily lives. People who want to live a life based on spiritual values often find themselves struggling with the issue of money. They have to answer questions such as how much is enough? What should I do with my money? Does God want me to have money? Can you be comfortably well-off and still be spiritual? Should I give all my money to the poor? Should I give any of my money to the poor?
What we want to do this morning is to examine Jesus' attitude and teaching about money?
When you read the gospels you may be surprised to find Jesus spoke about this topic often. 16 of the 38 parables deal with how to handle money and possessions, and 10% of the verses (288 in all) deal with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2000 verses on money and possessions.
Since the Bible has so much to say about the subject, it is surprising we have so many misconceptions about money. Some of our erroneous ideas are based on misinterpretation of scripture, others come from the culture we live in. Let's quickly examine a few of them.
1. Misconception number one: Money is the root of all evil.
This quote has been attributed to the Bible, but it is, in fact, a misquote. Actually, the Bible says:
1 Timothy 6:10 (NKJV) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
It is the LOVE of money that is a root of all kinds of evil. There's a big difference. Money, by itself, is neither good nor bad; it is our attitude toward money that determines its usefulness. What is your attitude toward money? Do you love it?
2. Misconception number two: God needs my money or the church will fail.
God is not poor. He owns it all. When you give to God, you are not "helping him out of a jam." In the book of Psalms, David quotes God as saying...
Psalms 50:9-10 (NKJV) I will not take a bull from your house, Nor goats out of your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills.
I like what Peter said to Simon Magus when he offered him money to buy the power of God:
Acts 8:20 (NKJV) But Peter said to him, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!
God owns everything, He doesn't need our money. We are to give our money out of a sense of love and gratitude for all God has given us. Paul put it this way:
2 Corinthians 9:7 (NKJV) So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
3. Misconception number three: Having enough money will make me happy.
The problem is that the target for "enough" keeps moving. Financial guru, Ken Roberts, said that when he first began building his fortune, he thought that one million dollars was the magic number that would make him happy and eliminate all of his worries. When he became a millionaire, he realized that he needed $5 million to be happy and at peace. When he accumulated a net-worth of $5 million, the target changed to $10 million. He finally realized that no amount would ever be enough; his peace of mind would have to come from something other than his bank account.
This is probably the greatest misconception; we think that money brings happiness. I would say that almost every believer believes this misconception to some degree.
4. Misconception number four: If I had enough money, I could do a lot of good.
This is one of the ideas that "Amway" uses to motivate people to work hard to make more money. They say, "Just think how much you could help out your Church and the needy if you had a lot of money." I've got news for you, if you are not using what you have now to support your local church and help the poor, you won't start helping if you had more money.
I read a survey recently of people who were asked the question "What would you do with a million dollars?" Nearly everyone said, "I would give some to charity." While it is true that most charities and churches are not in a position to turn down a donation, it is also true that, as a church, we have needs superceding our financial obligations. Money doesn't solve social problems, people do. Money doesn't spread the gospel, people do. Giving money is good, and we'll talk more about this in just a few minutes, but please understand; if you want to make an impact on the world, it requires something worth much more than money. It requires your time.
5. Misconception number five: God doesn't want me to have money.
Some people teach that there is a certain spirituality in being poor. They refer to Jesus' command to the rich young ruler that he sell all he owned and give it to the poor. But remember, Jesus said this only once; to a man who was obsessed with money. He had other followers who appear to have been affluent. In the Old Testament, David, Solomon, Job, and Abraham were all wealthy. God doesn't insist that you become poor, but he does insist that you have the right attitude toward money.
So what is the right attitude about money? Jesus said,
Luke 12:15 (NKJV) And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."
This is a verse that we all should memorize and meditate upon frequently. I really believe that most Americans believe that life does consist in the abundance of the things we posses. This would be a good verse to post around your house at Christmas. Maybe you should do a devotion on this verse before your children open their presents on Christmas morning.
Jesus said that our greatest danger is to become greedy. If you think only of stockpiling things for yourself, and neglect your relationship with God and your obligation to others, you will ultimately self-destruct. Today we will look at three things you can do to guard against greed, and to develop the attitude toward money that Jesus would want you to have. First of all...
1. Realize money isn't the most important thing in life.
Universities are full of students who are pre-med, or pre-law, or working toward an MBA, not because they have a passion for their field, but because they believe their degree will enable them to earn a good living. You know what happens to many of these students; years later they find themselves in the workforce, earning a enviable salary, yet dissatisfied with their careers and feeling too trapped to make a change.
Last year when Peyton Manning decided to play his senior year at the University of Tennessee and not enter the NFL draft, many people thought he was crazy to let the chance slip through his fingers. There are so many uncertainties in football; what if he was injured, or what if he had a bad season and lost his "superstar" status? What then? In an interview on ESPN, an agent said this decision could cost Peyton millions of dollars and cause him to drop several positions in the draft. Manning's response was, "These people don't get it. I wouldn't trade playing my senior year at Tennessee for anything in the world." (By the way, the agent was wrong; Peyton went first in the draft.)
People who make career choices, or any other choice for that matter, based solely on financial priorities often find these decisions come back to haunt them. Money is a miserable master. When you let it guide the decisions you make, you will find that it leads inevitably to loneliness and isolation. Money isn't the most important thing in life, the most important thing in life is our relationship to God.
Psalms 37:4 (NKJV) Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Would you be happy if you had the desires of your heart? It starts by delighting in God, which we can only do as we come to know Him through His word. Our problem is we try to find our delight in money instead of God.
Blaise Pascal said, "Happiness is neither within us only, or without us; it is the union of ourselves with God."
Psalms 16:11 (NKJV) You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
When David said to the Lord: "In your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore," he meant that nearness to God himself is the only all-satisfying experience of the universe. God created us, and He created us to live in fellowship with Him. Only as we do that will we know true happiness. Happiness comes from an abiding relationship with God, not from money.
Jesus said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." There is more to life than making money. To the extent that we remember this, we can safeguard ourselves against greed. Secondly...
2. Learn to enjoy the financial blessings in your life.
No matter where you fall on the socio-economic scale, there are some people above you and some below you. I know too many people who are not able to appreciate what they have because they are so focused on what they don't have. True, there are people in this world who do not have the financial pressures you have, and from your point of view, their lives may appear to be easy and carefree. Maybe you think that's unfair. At the same time, there are those who do not have it as easy as you do. Instead of thinking about what is missing from your life, be grateful for all you have.
Orange County California is the most affluent county in the nation. According to Money Magazine, the median income in Orange County is 80% above the rest of the country. Yet, when OC residents were surveyed, the overwhelming response from the majority of residents was "I need a little bit more." Here are hundreds of thousands of the richest people in the world, and yet, instead of enjoying their wealth, instead of being grateful for all they do have, they are convinced they need more.
This attitude is not unique to Californians. The fact is, we see this attitude every where we go. Solomon warned against this attitude;
Ecclesiastes 6:9 (NKJV) Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
That may not make a lot of sense to you but if you look at this verse in a different translation, I think its meaning will become clear.
Ecclesiastes 6:9 (New Century Version) It is better to see what you have than to want more. Wanting more is useless-- like chasing the wind.
Ecclesiastes 6:9 (GWT) It is better to look at what is in front of you than to go looking for what you want. Even this is pointless. <It's like> trying to catch the wind.
Do you want to get rid of the "I never have enough" mentality and begin to enjoy your financial blessings? Do you want to experience financial freedom? There's a way to do it. It's simple, but it's not easy. It takes a little effort at first. Here it is: Live within your means. Spend less than you earn, and don't buy anything you can't pay for with cash. I would guess that 90% of the people in this country don't live within their means, Christians included.
Some of you may respond, "That's impossible!" The truth is, it is possible. The key to financial freedom is not to increase your income, it is to decrease your wants. The wealthiest person is the one who is satisfied with the least number of things.
At a goal-setting seminar, the participants were encouraged to write down everything they wanted out of life: what they wanted to accomplish, where they wanted to travel, what they wanted in their relationships, how much money they wanted to make, and on and on. They were also supposed to write down all of the possessions they wanted to accumulate; cars, homes, boats, planes, stereos, a complete shopping list. The idea was for them to develop a "burning desire" for these things, motivating them to earn more money so they could buy them. They were given ten minutes to record their list of material wants. One man who attended the seminar finished in about a minute. He said, "I couldn't think of anything I really want." His list contained a half a dozen items, the most extravagant being a Sony Walkman. All six items combined would have easily cost less than $1000. Someone said to him, "Why don't you just go buy these things? You have the money." He said, "I suppose I could. Before today I didn't realize I wanted any of them." Being goal-driven doesn't mean you have to be possession-driven. We don't want the driving force behind the work we do to be the accumulation of possessions.
Jesus said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness" This means that we should strive to enjoy the things we have. Third...
3. Practice giving to others.
Luke 12:15-21 (NKJV) And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." 16 Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 "And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' 18 "So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'
In this parable, this man's sin was not that he was successful. His sin was that he was selfish. He produced a good crop and thought only of himself. He neglected spiritual priorities. As a result, his soul was required of him that very night, and he never received any of what he had prepared for himself. Then Jesus said,
Luke 12:21 (NKJV) "So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
It's no coincidence that the word "miser" and the word "miserable" come from the same root. God didn't bless you financially so you could keep it to yourself. When you try to hang on to everything, you lose the joy of abundance. You also miss out on the joy of being a blessing to other people.
The only way to release the grip of materialism is to learn to give. Most people intend to be generous, but too often we put it off until we can afford it. For most of us, that day may never come because our expenses tend to rise with our income, it is easy for our entire paycheck to be consumed by "necessities." If we do not make a concentrated effort to start giving, then we'll procrastinate forever. Solomon warned of this..
Ecclesiastes 5:11 (NKJV) When goods increase, They increase who eat them; So what profit have the owners Except to see them with their eyes?
Ecclesiastes 5:11 (GWT) As the number of goods increase, so do the number of people who consume them. What do owners gain <from all their goods> except <the opportunity> to look at them?
Ecclesiastes 5:11 (NLT) The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what is the advantage of wealth--except perhaps to watch it run through your fingers!
This is why Solomon recommends that we become generous...
Ecclesiastes 11:1 (NKJV) Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.
Ecclesiastes 11:1 (NLT) Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
Proverbs tells us:
Proverbs 19:17 (NKJV) He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, And He will pay back what he has given.
Jesus also told us...
Matthew 6:19-20 (NKJV) "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Jesus is teaching a basic principle of life: The secret to living is giving. Sometimes we put off giving because we do not have much to give, but it's not the amount that is important but the sacrifice. Big givers tend to draw a lot of attention to themselves, and sometimes their magnanimous gifts make ours seem insignificant in comparison.
Last year, Ted Turner made the cover of Newsweek when he announced his contribution of $1,000,0000,000 (one billion dollars) to the United Nations. I think it's safe to say that no one in this room is in a position to give that much money. While I don't want to negate the value of his generosity, it should be pointed out that due to the tax benefits from the donation, along with the fact the gift is to be distributed over a period of ten years, the donation will not have an impact on his 3.2 billion dollar net worth. And, of course, he reaped a public relations windfall from the announcement.
Jesus recommended another way of giving. One day, when donations at the temple were being collected, many wealthy individuals were "throwing in" large amounts, to much fanfare. Along came a poor widow, who gave two small copper coins, barely worth a penny. Jesus said to his disciples...
Luke 21:1-4 (NKJV) And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, 2 and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. 3 So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; 4 "for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had."
Stewardship is measured by the sacrifice we make, not by the amount we give. The widow's willingness to give all she had represented better stewardship than the large gifts of the rich who retained abundant resources. Christian stewardship involves sacrificial giving, which counts the need, rather than the availability, of resources for personal use.
Jesus is not saying that we should turn our backs on our responsibility to our children and give all of our money away. He is saying that we should be willing to give sacrificially. On the subject of giving, C.S. Lewis said, "The only safe rule is to give more than we can spare...If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small." (Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 3)
On this subject, John Wesley said, "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can." Both of these great men understood this basic life principle; the secret to living is giving.
It is plain to see that Jesus' attitude toward money is different in many ways than ours. He is not against your having money; he just doesn't want money to have you. He warns us to be on guard against greed; to watch out for the mentality of "more, more, more." The best way to combat this is to recognize that money isn't everything, and to recognize that we already have much to be thankful for, and to discover that the secret of living is giving. This will loosen the grip that materialism can have on your life. It will enable you to have control of your money, without your money having control of you.