The Treasure Principle
April 17, 2005
This is the second sermon in a two-part miniseries on God and our money. We’re doing this because we’re praying that God will help us pay off the remainder of the Legacy Campaign debt by Thanksgiving. Our greater goal is to get free of debt so we can move forward with our dream of becoming a multi-site church in 2006.
Last week I shared two key principles that apply to both of these sermons:
It’s not about money. It’s about God.
It’s not about what God wants from you. It’s about what God wants for you.
Whenever we dare to believe what God says about giving, we will be set free. This is one of those topics where the truth will never be experienced simply by me preaching to you. These sermons are only a small part of the picture. When you put the truth about God and your money into practice, you will be inviting the supernatural to invade the natural. And when that happens, your life will never be the same.
Most of this sermon is not by me. Most of it is by you. I want to share several testimonies I received this week of God’s faithfulness in the area of finances. And the place to start is with my own testimony. In September 2003, I preached four sermons in connection with the launching of the Legacy Campaign. One of those sermons was called “Level Three Faith and How to Get There.” There are basically three levels of faith when it comes to giving:
Level 1 represents what you know you can give. It’s an amount you come to by looking at your budget, considering your obligations, and then coming to a certain conclusion. The amount will vary from person to person, but the principle is always the same: It’s what you know you can safely give.
Level 2 represents what you would like to give. That’s a larger and more challenging number. It’s the amount you would give if you had more money.
Level 3 is something else entirely. It’s the level of faith that lies beyond what you can see with your eyes. It’s the amount that your faith tells you that you ought to give. Level 3 faith says, “This is what I believe God would have me give.” It’s a “God-number” that causes you to say, “Lord, this is impossible without you.” You know you’ve reached Level 3 when just thinking about it makes you nervous.
When I preached that sermon, I told the congregation that Marlene and I had committed to give an amount equal to three times our annual giving to Calvary. That is, we would continue to give our usual amount to the church each year, and then we would give three times that yearly amount to the Legacy Campaign building fund. That meant doing the equivalent of five years of giving in a little over two years. We were both nervous about that commitment because it was definitely Level 3 for us. We knew that without God’s help, it was impossible. As we prayed, we decided that we would designate 50% of any “extra” money that came in to the Legacy Campaign. I’m happy to report that God was abundantly faithful. Money came in from many unexpected places. Not all at once, and not in huge amounts, but the Lord sent the money in as we prayed about it. By May 2004 (eight months later), we had given half of our commitment. By Thanksgiving 2004 we had completed our commitment, one year earlier than expected. God enabled us to continue our regular giving and also to pay our bills. And since then we have continued to give to the Legacy Campaign.
The whole experience stretched us way out of our comfort zone. We also felt great freedom and growing excitement as we watched God help us meet our commitment. I have mentioned several times that this year we’ve been praying, “Lord, do things we’re not used to.” After I mentioned that in the first service on Sunday, Marlene added that we believe there is a connection between our Legacy commitment, God’s faithfulness, that prayer, and all three of our boys going to China to serve the Lord. When I preached on Level 3 faith in September 2003, I ended my sermon with these words: “May God bring us to the place where we trust him more than ever before.” God has done that for us, and I wanted to share the good news with you.
Last Sunday I said that we need to raise $893,000 to pay off the Legacy Campaign by Thanksgiving. Several days later I received the following email from a young man in our congregation:
I figured out how we can all make it to finishing off the money we owe. Over the next 32 weeks, I’ll get paid every two weeks. If I give $56 every two weeks, until the due date, I will have given 896 dollars (56 x 16=896). If just 1,000 people at Calvary would give 56 dollars in the way I have just described, we will pay off what we need=896,000 dollars.
I like his plan because it shows how easily this can be accomplished if we all pitch in and do our part. Some can do more, others can do less, but we all can do something.
This morning our text comes from the familiar words of Jesus in Matthew 6. Most of us have heard many sermons on these verses. I’d like us to focus on three great truths from this passage.
I. A Principle to Remember
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). We can state this verse in another way: Your heart follows your money. We tend to think in the opposite terms—that wherever our heart is, that’s where our money will be. That’s true, but it’s only true because our heart and our money go together. That’s the real point Jesus is making. You can talk all you want about how much something means to you, but your checkbook tells the truth. Talk is cheap. Nothing reveals the condition of your heart, and the ultimate values of your life, like the way you spend your money. This leads to several useful insights:
A. Your heart is a moveable object.
B. Your heart will be wherever you want it to be.
That’s why Jesus said in verse 24, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” John Piper explains it this way:
There is something about God and money that makes them tend to mastery. Either you are mastered by money and therefore ignore God or make him a bellhop for your business, or you are mastered by God and make money a servant of the kingdom. But if either tries to master you while you are mastered by the other you will hate and despise it. This is why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Much money makes a cruel master.
When it comes to our possessions, we usually only ask one question, “What are my possessions doing for me.” We ought also to ask, “What are my possessions doing to me?” Last Wednesday night after I finished teaching my Bible class, a woman asked me with a smile, “Have you given away your bike yet?” She was referring to my comments in my sermon last Sunday. The answer is, “No,” but I have to ask the question. Remember what I said last week:
It’s not wrong to own a bicycle, even a nice one, but it’s wrong if your bicycle owns you. It’s not wrong to own a big home, a summerhouse, a motorcycle, nice clothes, fine jewelry, an expensive sound system, a fishing boat, or any of the other marks of success in modern life. None of those things is inherently evil. You can enjoy them as long as you understand that everything you have belongs to God, and the things you have are only temporarily loaned to you by the Lord. It’s not wrong to own nice things, but you are in a dangerous place when those nice things own you. How do you know when something “owns” you?
When you need that “thing” as a major source of happiness or fulfillment in your life.
When you can’t imagine living without it.
When you get angry at the thought of losing it.
When that possession is the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night.
When you find yourself thinking about it in every spare moment.
When you are gripped with fear at the thought of losing it.
When you find yourself bringing it up in almost every conversation.
When you get upset if someone else touches it or comes near it.
When you plan your schedule around it.
When you enjoy that “thing” more than being with family and friends.
When others warn you about your attachment to your possessions.
When worries and concerns about your possessions crowd out the joy in your life.
At that point, Richard Foster’s advice is very good. When you know deep in your soul that something you own has started to own you, give it away. Find someone who needs it and give it to them. Don’t make a big deal about it. Just give it away. You will be free, and someone else will be blessed. And your heart will start to sing again.
Here’s part of a note I received this week (used with permission) in response to my sermon last Sunday:
I have learned three things about giving.
1) The joy God gives you when you put God first in money and time. That joy comes from knowing that even when you are out of work, or you are suffering with a serious illness, or your children may be in a hard place, God has your back. And when you become anxious, he has a remedy in his Word. We just need to read it.
2) When we take the focus off what blessing God is going to give us, and change it to, “God, how can I be a blessing for you?” then you really get excited and you start to live your life seeing where and how you can bless someone through money, time, a phone call, giving God the glory.
3). You can’t out-give God.
A month ago I was going to give up my real estate job and look for a job with hospitalization. I just couldn’t get a deal to save my life. I knew I was obedient and joyfully giving to the Lord, but I couldn’t put a finger on my failing business. I have prayed and prayed for God’s direction and his will and he has finally given me peace and an answer. In seeking God’s will I came across I Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always, pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ.” Instead of focusing on how much money I need to make in real estate, I wrote a mission statement: “I can carry out God’s call to help people find a home through caring, being a person of high integrity and hard work, seeking God’s direction, and to stay the course, my priority is to focus on making a difference in people’s lives and not focus on how much money I need to make.” Since January I have helped a young couple with no hope of purchasing a house, buy a home with an agriculture loan and no money down, a single mom buy a home under our FHA program, and another couple with no money down qualify for a home and we are in the process of looking now, all first-time home buyers. I’m exactly where God wants me to be.
This last week was a blessing from God. He orchestrates the way if we allow him, and he is so much better at it than I am. That is the blessing of giving; it’s the joy and peace you have in good times and hard times.
Pastor, I apologize for the lengthy email, I just feel so passionate about giving. It’s an honor and a love that I can’t explain.
There’s a person who has learned to put God first and the result has been blessing and great joy.
II. A Priority to Follow
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a). Because we know it so well, this verse may have lost its power to challenge us. Consider this verse in light of some other things Jesus said.
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (Luke 12:33).
“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).
Several things strike me as I consider what Jesus said. Seeking God’s kingdom first always involves what I do with my money. It’s more than money, but it’s not less than that. And seeking God’s kingdom means giving for the good of others, in this case the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. We give because we care deeply about the hurting people all around us. Giving is about others—not about ourselves. But there is an irony in all of this. According to Jesus, giving is the best way to provide security for yourself. By investing in God’s kingdom, you provide moneybags that do not grow old and you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.
We must be intentional about this. Living like this does not happen by accident. And it’s not just about money. It’s about using our resources for the good of others. Years ago I heard someone say that life consists of two things: time and money. That’s all life is. It’s the time we spend to make the money we have. If I give you $500, I’ve given you that part of my life that it took to earn $500. The true measure of your life is how you spend your time and how you spend your money. I saw this principle in action yesterday. A little over a year ago Pam Steger, a young mother in our congregation, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. An initial round of radiation pushed the cancer into remission and Pam seemed to be doing great. A few months ago, the cancer returned with a vengeance. At this moment, the ultimate outcome of any further treatment is in doubt. Pam and her husband Mike fully understand the situation and have responded with courageous faith in God. Several weeks ago, Marlene and I visited Pam when she was in the hospital for several days of treatment. While we were there, we watched as she passionately witnessed to a very close friend and urged her to trust Christ. “I want you to be in heaven with me,” she said.
Mike and Pam and their two young children live in a typical urban apartment building. It was built with a tiny backyard area shoehorned between two other buildings. Every apartment has a landing alongside a wooden stairway that descends to a concrete sidewalk leading to the alley. The backyard was basically a mud hole. No grass, no bushes, no flowers, and nowhere for the children to play. Just a dirt enclosure surrounded by buildings and a wooden fence. Ugly and uninviting.
A group from our church decided to do something about that backyard as a surprise gift to Mike and Pam and their children. They arranged for an overnight trip to the Embassy Suites hotel in Lombard. On Saturday morning a team of workers descended on that barren backyard and went to work. A lawn care contractor donated sod and workers to install it. Sunday School classes pitched in the money to create a beautiful landscaped garden. Others donated money to purchase a sturdy swing set and a jungle gym plus new furniture for the landing outside their apartment. By noon the sod was down, the garden was in, and volunteers were assembling the playground equipment. Work continued through the afternoon. Mike and Pam didn’t see the finished results until 5:00 p.m. I am so proud to see the body of Christ at Calvary come together to meet the physical and spiritual needs of a dear family facing an uncertain future. God bless every person who planned and gave and cleared and dug and planted and assembled and cleaned up. Last Sunday I told you that Christ has no hands but ours to do his work in the world. On Saturday a lot of those hands got dirty helping Mike and Pam and their children. It is truly an example of being the hands of Christ and the church in many places.
When Marlene and I dropped by a few minutes before noon, you know what we experienced? Joy. You could feel it everywhere. That’s what happens when we use our resources to help others in Jesus’ name.
III. A Promise to Believe
“And all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33b). What are “all these things?” Jesus defines them for us in verses 25-32: food, clothes, shelter, money, a job, and all the other necessities of life. God already knows about them. When you say, “Lord, I’m out of a job,” it isn’t news to him. When you say, “Lord, I can’t pay my bills,” he checked your bank account before you did. He knows you are broke. That’s a wonderful incentive to pray. He already knows the details of every problem in your life. So go ahead, tell him the whole story. He won’t be surprised. And pray with confidence. He’s waiting to hear from you.
Let God solve your problems. Keep on praying. Keep on trusting. Keep on believing. Keep on doing good. Keep on serving the Lord. Keep on helping others. Keep on sharing. And God promises to take care of you. Let God be God even in the hard times. And everything else you need will be added to you. You will have everything you need to do God’s will. Let me amend that statement to make it a bit stronger. You will have everything you need when you need it to do God’s will. You may not have all you want or all you think you need, but God will not fail you. If you are in trouble, you will have what you need. If you are in prison, you will have what you need. And when you are dying, you will have what you need. Recently I was re-reading The Life of D. L. Moody by his son, William R. Moody. At one point, he quotes something his father said in a sermon about the love of God when we die:
People say to me, have you the grace to die? I say no; I have only the grace now to hold this meeting. The Lord promises to give grace when we need it and not before, and when death comes, and not before, he will give us dying grace (p. 476).
That brings us to the words of Jesus in verse 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Don’t borrow trouble. There’s plenty to be thinking about right now. So many people are frozen with fear over what might happen two or three months down the road. Listen, if God could create the world in seven days, he can surely handle your problems in June or July. Each day has enough trouble to keep you plenty busy. You take care of today and God will take care of tomorrow.
Money problems scare many of us to death. And we will not be free until we at last take a step of faith. Here is a testimony from a young woman in our congregation:
Thanks for the sermon last Sunday. I needed to hear what you said, and I prayed specifically that God would show me something through church on Sunday to make a decision. Currently, I have two part-time jobs (no children). I attended BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) for the first time this whole year and have really enjoyed it. They asked me to be a discussion leader next year and I was struggling because if I decided to take that position, I couldn’t earn more money or get a full-time job, etc. I would be spending more hours on training each week for BSF and calling the women in my group each week. So after “being afraid” of the money situation, I prayed and said give me a sign at church. I thought of course you would be in your I Peter series or something.
What really struck me in your sermon was your reference to fear and to trust God and what he has for you not what he is taking from you. Also when you said we should concentrate on what will last for Christ on earth, not earthly things but heavenly things. I cringed in my seat and knew I had to do BSF because of exactly what you said. I still don’t know how my husband and I will make it next year. I don’t know where the money will come from and how this will all fit but I will be impacting 15 women for Christ in BSF next year. That is all that really matters to God. I just have to keep saying that to myself when I worry.
When I asked for permission to quote her email, she wrote back to say yes, and then added this note:
Last night I got the call from the BSF teaching leader and she said that she is more than happy to accept my application and welcomed me to leadership. I don’t know how God will do it all but I just keep telling myself to trust Him. BSF here I come!! 🙂
God bless her for taking this step of faith. I have no doubt God will supply everything she and her husband need. It may not be easy, but whatever difficulty they have will be more than offset through the joy of ministering to those women in BSF.
I come now to the end of my two-week miniseries on giving. What keeps us from enjoying the radical freedom that comes from trusting God with our money? I’m convinced the answer is fear. We’re afraid to trust God with our money. I have some good news for you. The Lord Jesus knows this is a battle for us. He knows all about our anxiety attacks and how we worry and obsess over having enough to pay our bills. He knows that we are as lambs among wolves. He told us that in this world we would have many tribulations.
And five times in this passage Jesus repeats himself:
“Do not worry” (v. 25).
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (v. 27).
“Why do you worry?” (v. 28).
“So do not worry” (v. 31).
“Therefore do not worry” (v. 34).
It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? If we want to “lay up treasures in heaven” (v. 19), then we must serve God and not money (v. 24), we must seek first God’s kingdom (v. 33), and we must not worry about tomorrow (v. 34). When we live like this, God will take care of all the details of life.
One final word from Randy Alcorn: “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but to raise my standard of giving.” Let me wrap up this sermon with some practical suggestions:
A. Read Matthew 6:19-34 this week.
B. Read the packet of Legacy Campaign material that we are giving you this morning.
C. Ask God to deliver you from fear.
D. Take a step of faith.
E. Let us know what you plan to do.
We’d love to hear how God has spoken to your heart about your own giving. Let us know what the Lord is teaching you in this area.
These are good and exciting days for our church. As we move forward and consider the challenge of reaching beyond these buildings and becoming a multi-site church, God has prepared open doors for us to enter.
May God deliver us from fear.
May God deliver us from worry.
Forgive us, Lord, for doubting your Word. We say we trust you and then we try to manage our own affairs. We believe that you have the answers but often we forget to consult you. Forgive us for our lack of faith. Break the death grip that money has on us. Make us Kingdom-Seekers and not just Money-Makers. Please, Lord, reach down and change the gears within us so that we may go forward with you. Amen.