Mastering Your Money
September 9, 2001 | Brian Bill
According to a recently released survey of over 4,000 people, Americans are more cynical today than ever before. We don’t trust politicians or the economy and many are suspicious of the church. I realize that our topic this morning may create additional cynicism for some of you. One of the raps that churches have today is that they’re always asking for money.
That reminds me of the mother who was hysterical because little Jimmy had swallowed a quarter. She turned to her husband and screamed for him to call a doctor. So he picked up the phone, but instead of calling the doctor, he decided to call his pastor. The wife was upset and said, “We don’t need the pastor, we need some medical help!” To which the husband replied, “Hey, our pastor can get money out of anyone!”
I want you to put you at ease. My goal is not to try to pry money out of you this morning. You can breathe a sigh of relief because we’ve already taken the offering! During our Building For The Future campaign, we will not use any underhanded or emotional appeals.
Since I know what I’m up against when tackling the topic of money in church, I hope to persuade you that it’s important to hear what the Bible has to say. You see, according to Jesus, money is a spiritual issue. And, since it’s a spiritual issue, we need to address it for at least three reasons.
- The Bible has more to say about money than almost any other subject.
- Giving will help us get to where we’re going as a church.
- There are incredible benefits to giving.
We discovered last week that in order to find worth in our work, we must view our job as a calling, not just a career. A career can become the altar on which we sacrifice our lives in the pursuit of money and possessions. A calling involves recognizing that we are co-workers with God in accomplishing His purposes by being content, by working in order to have so that our needs can be met, and by working in order to give so that God can meet the needs of others through us.
The topic of money is both personal and theological. I’ve come across three different theological perspectives in my conversations with people.
1. Poverty Theology.
This imbalanced view teaches that we should have a disdain for possessions. Some who hold this position would say that it’s wrong to have excess money and things.
2. Prosperity Theology.
This teaching wrongly assumes that prosperity is the reward of the righteous. This cause and effect relationship implies that if God is happy with you, He will bless you financially. If He’s not pleased with you, you won’t be blessed with possessions.
[Oh, I’m sorry. I just forgot something. My sister and brother-in-law are here today and we wanted to take them out for lunch. This is really embarrassing. I don’t have any money on me. Could someone give me $50? Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.]
3. Proper Theology.
The proper way to view our possessions is that they are a trust given by God that we are responsible to manage. Everything belongs to Him and we are to serve as stewards whether we are blessed with a lot or with a little. Now, I can tell that many of you are wondering why someone would just pop out of their seats and hand me $50. Do you know why he did it? It’s because it wasn’t his money. It was mine. I gave it to him before the service. He was simply returning it to me.
That’s exactly what we do when we practice the joy of biblical stewardship – we give back to God that which is His in the first place. Friends, we’ve never given God one thing. When we make an offering or a tithe, we’re giving what He already owns. We’ll talk more about this next Sunday.
Before we jump into our text for today, let me make a couple observations.
- We all struggle with materialism. Money magazine has declared that money is now the #1 obsession of Americans. Newsweek reports that we have achieved a new plane of consciousness called “transcendental acquisition.” A recent cover story (8/27/01), quotes a woman who is saddled with debt. By the way, did you know that the average credit cardholder has over $8,100 in credit-card debt? This woman from Dallas recently charged a diving trip to the French East Indies. Instead of trying to break free from the “credit drug,” it’s as if she’s given up when she says: “I’ve spoiled myself and I can’t change my habits.”
- We’re not comfortable with the struggle. If we’re honest, we don’t really like materialism’s mantra. John Stott put it this way: “We cannot maintain a life of extravagance and a good conscience simultaneously. One or the other has to be sacrificed. Either we keep our conscience and reduce our affluence by giving generously and helping those in need, or we keep our affluence and smother our conscience. We have to choose between God and money.”
Jesus realizes that most people struggle with managing money — that’s why He devoted much of His teaching to this critical area of life. He dealt with money matters because money matters. That reminds me of the old Jack Benny skit. An armed robber approaches Benny and demands, “Your money or your life!” Benny hesitates and says nothing. Finally, the robber says, “Well, what will it be?” To which Benny replies, “Don’t rush me, I’m thinking about it!” Your money is really your life.
Sermon on the Amount
While Jesus taught on many different topics, his most famous message is called the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. I’m sure there were some cynics who were listening to Jesus that day. They probably wondered who this new teacher was. They may have been turned off by religion. But, as they listened, their cynicism turned to interest. They were impressed with His insight and His practical teaching. He covered many of the subjects of life: how to treat others, how to forgive, how to handle lust, how to handle worry, the importance of keeping your word, and the difference between true and false prayer
Eventually he came to the subject of money. That really shouldn’t surprise us because money is a big part of what life is all about. We work for money, we live for money, we think about money, we wish we had more, and worry that we don’t have enough. Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 6:19-24. In this passage, Jesus challenges us with the question, “Where is your treasure?” He helps us find the answer by giving four tests.
1. The Durability Test.
The first test is found in verses 19-20 and asks the question, “How long will it last?” Verse 19 is a negative command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Verse 20 is the positive: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
The first word that leaps out at us in these verses is the word “treasures.” Jesus did not say, “money” because while everyone does not have a lot of cash, we all have things that we treasure. Our treasure may be a home, a car, a computer, our clothes, or even a position that we hold or seek after. While Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to have treasures, He is telling us that our focus should be on laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth.
The first life-skill that Jesus wants us to develop is to stop living just for today. This command is in the present tense. It literally means to “stop storing up.” We’re to stop doing something that by nature we’ve been doing for most of our lives. Jesus knows that our natural, inborn desire is to accumulate things.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t have material possessions, or own property, or save for the future. The key lies in the little phrase, “for yourselves.” Jesus is forbidding the selfish, self-centered accumulating of goods as the major end of life.
Two things happen to the things we own. First, they decay. In ancient times, wealth was measured in part by clothing. Garments represented a considerable investment. The best clothes were made of wool. No matter how beautiful the clothing, moths would often attack and chew right through the garments. Coupled with the attack of the killer moths, rust would corrode and consume things of value.
Second, our possessions can disappear. Valuables were often buried out in the field or hidden in a brick wall. Back then, thieves would literally break into the walls and dig up the yard as they searched for valuables.
If you try to store your wealth, the moths will find it, or rust will consume it. If you try to hide it for yourself, thieves can steal it. Jesus is saying that earthly wealth is very insecure. It either decays over time, or it disappears altogether.
When our family walked through the Devotional Guide this week, we listed a number of things under question #1 on page 5: “Make a list of treasures we collect on earth. Write next to each treasure how it could be lost or taken away.” Whether it’s my new pair of running shoes that are now stained with mud, our VCR that broke after only a couple month’s use, or one of the girl’s dolls that is falling apart, earthly treasures do not stand the test of time.
Job 27:16, 20 provides a vivid description of this process: “Though he heaps up silver like dust and clothes like piles of clay…he lays down wealthy, but will do so no more; when he opens his eyes, all is gone.”
Earthly treasures are fleeting and futile but heavenly treasures are secure. 1 Peter 1:4: “And into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you.” Treasures that we send on ahead are mothproof, rustproof, and burglarproof. Verse 20: “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Jesus challenges us to make long-term investments that are permanent and guaranteed
The issue is not whether we will store up wealth. That’s a given. The only question is where we will do our banking. Since earthly treasures are unstable and insecure, Jesus challenges us to make long-term investments that are permanent and guaranteed. Deposits made in the First National Bank of Heaven will not decay or disappear. They are protected and insured by God Himself.
That leads to a question: How do we make deposits on earth that yield dividends in heaven? Let me answer that in just one sentence: You store up treasures in heaven by investing your money in that which lasts for eternity. I know of two things that will last forever:
- The Word of God
Friends, everything else will decay or disappear. Cars, boats, homes, clothes, jobs, salaries, vacations, books, and buildings will all pass away. They wear out, rust out, blow up, or fall apart. Nothing that is material lasts forever. That’s the way God set it up. 1 John 2:17: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” I love what Jim Eliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Since only the Word of God and people last forever, we need to develop a long-term view. When we give of our financial resources to people in need, we are making a difference. The ultimate investment you can make is to give financially to help communicate the Word of God to people.
2. Heart Test.
The second test asks the question, “Where are you investing your time and money?” and is found in verse 21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
To put it plainly, Jesus is saying that your heart follows your money. That’s not the way most of us think. We tend to think our money follows our heart — if our heart is right, we will spend our money wisely. That’s not the way it works because your heart always follows your treasure.
Whatever you invest your time and money in will become very important to you. Too many of us spend all that we have on the things of this world and then we wonder why we have trouble concentrating on the things of God. Our problem is that we’ve invested everything down here and hardly anything up there! Our money has kept our heart tied to the earth. You’ll never be able to get your heart focused on heaven as long as your attention is on material things.
When I got out of high school I bought a brand new motorcycle. It was a blue Honda Hawk. It was gorgeous. Since I had spent my hard earned money on this bike, I took very good care of it. I would wash and wax it once a week. I even used my toothbrush to clean the hard-to-get places (this was kind of hard on my teeth after awhile!). I bought a tarp and covered it so it wouldn’t get wet when it rained.
I owned this bike for 2 years. It was during my second year of college, that I began to investigate Christianity and eventually committed my life to Christ. After I had been a Christian for a couple months, I realized that I wasn’t as focused on God as I wanted to be. Then it dawned on me. I was putting so much time and money into my motorcycle that it was starting to negatively affect my faith. Instead of me owning my bike; my bike was starting to own me. I eventually sold it because of its tenacious tug on my heart.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you have to sell a motorcycle or a car to be a fully committed follower of Christ. What I am saying is this. Your heart will always follow your money. Your heart will be wrapped up in what you treasure. Possessions can very easily become the center of our life.
3. The Mind Test.
The third test asks the question, “Where is your focus?” and is found in verses 22-23: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
The eye is a symbol for the mind. Jesus is saying that there are only two possible ways to look at things. If our minds focus only on things down here, we’ll be full of darkness. The natural eye focuses on our physical existence but the spiritual eye locks into what really matters. When money becomes our #1 obsession, it can put blinders on our eyes and ruin our spiritual life. If our thoughts are filled with how we can deposit treasures in heaven, our bodies will be full of light.
4. The Master Test.
The fourth and final test focuses on our will and asks the question: “Whom do you serve?” Let’s look at verse 24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
To “serve” means that we’ve made a choice and engaged our wills. If we’re not careful, we can be deluded by thinking material things will last forever. Our emotions can then affect our minds, which in turn can cause our wills to be in the grip of money with a capital “M.”
Attachment to money leads to a detachment from God
The word Jesus uses here for money is the word, “Mammon,” which is a proper noun, or a name. Jesus viewed Money as a rival for preeminence. Attachment to money leads to a detachment from God. The Bible is absolutely clear about the venomous nature of money. It fights for supremacy in our lives and it has many of the characteristics of deity. It promises security, freedom and power.
To be a committed Christ-follower is not merely a matter of the emotions but also of our minds and wills. To love God requires service and even sacrifice. This type of allegiance cannot be rendered to two parties. Whatever we devote ourselves to becomes our God. The tension that many of us experience when we try to love both God and money will sooner or later begin to show where our real loyalty lies. Only one master will win out.
Money is not just a neutral medium of exchange, but a “power” with a life of its own which seeks to control, and even consume us. The goal of this Money Master is total domination of your value system, without you even being aware of it.
If you’re serving the Money Master, Jesus says you will be unable to fully serve God. He doesn’t say, “you better not” or “it would be unwise to serve both,” He says, “you cannot serve both God and money.” As such, how we handle our money has a lot to do with how serious we are about obeying God. His words are unsettling. If you love money, you will end up hating God. If you are devoted to the pursuit of possessions and the making of money, you will find yourself despising the things of God.
I suspect that most of you do not want to hate God. In fact, you’re here because you want to learn how you can get to know Him better. Let me put it right on the table. You will never be able to fully love God if you are in love with money and all that money can buy. Loving God and loving money are mutually exclusive.
We’ve all heard the expression “Money Talks.” Have you ever listened to what it says?
“You hold me in your hand and call me yours. Yet may I not as well call you mine? See how easily I rule you? To gain me, you would all but die. I am invaluable as rain, essential as water. Yet I do not hold the power of life — I am futile without the stamp of your desire. I go nowhere unless you send me. My power is terrific. Handle me carefully and wisely, lest you become my servant, rather than I yours.” As someone has said, “Money is a wonderful servant, but a lousy master.”
4 Tests Illustrated
When Jesus was asked a question about a money matter, He told a story that illustrates how easy it is to fail these four tests. Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 12. Let’s start by looking at verse 15: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Greed is something that we all struggle with. If we don’t admit it and put up our guard, we will be consumed by it. The word means a “thirst for having more.” The reason we have to watch out is because we can begin to think that our life consists of our possessions. If we have a lot, then we’re doing well. If we don’t have much, we feel like we’re missing out on something – almost like we’re not really living.
Jesus then tells a parable to show us what can happen if we take a short-term approach to life: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
Did you notice how many times this man uses the words, “me”, “myself” and “I”? I counted them: 12 times in 3 verses! His greed is unchecked. His focus is on what he can see. He begins to feel good about himself and inflates his importance and expertise. Friends, it can be dangerous to be successful in your business, or in your career. You can begin to feel like you’ve got it made. The accumulation of things can deceive you into thinking that you’re better off than you really are.
Because of this man’s windfall in his short-term investment, he decided to coast. He could retire and just take life easy. He had no concerns. His life consisted of eating, drinking and partying.
Do you see the deception? He was storing up treasures on earth with no long-term investment strategy for the next life. Notice what happens next in verse 20: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
Because this man had an earthly perspective instead of a heavenly perspective, he focused his energy only on this life. I’m sure he was considered to be very successful by his friends — he may even have appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine! Let’s admit it. We look up to people like this. Our culture honors those who make a lot of money. They write books, lead seminars, and do “Infomercials”.
God, however, has a different view of this man. Because he was laying up treasures for himself on earth, and had made no eternal investments, God calls him a fool. When he dies, all his possessions and his shiny new barns will disappear and be given to someone else. He failed the durability test, the heart test, the mind test, and the master test.
Jesus concludes this parable with an application for each of us in verse 21: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Are you storing up things only for yourself? Are you just focused on this world? If so, you’re in trouble. If I’m not rich toward God, God says that I’m a fool.
Friends, let me encourage you to take this four-part test on a regular basis.
1. The Durability Test.
How long will my things last? Are they temporary or will they last forever in heaven?
2. The Heart Test.
Where am I investing my time and money? What excites me the most, earth or heaven? Which place makes my heart beat faster?
3. The Mind Test.
Where do I focus my goals? Am I committed to materialism or spirituality? Do I operate according to God’s priorities, or my own?
4. The Master Test.
Is Jesus my master or is something, or someone, else? Will I serve money on earth and allow it to be my god, or will I serve God in heaven with my treasures, which are really His in the first place?
A rich man died and went to heaven. As he went through the Pearly Gates, Peter came to greet him and said, “Welcome to heaven. Let me show you where you’ll be staying.”
That suited the rich man just fine, because as he looked around, he saw mansions stretching out in every direction. They were beautiful! They appeared to be constructed of gold and silver and precious gems.
As Peter and the rich man began to walk along the streets of gold, they came to an ornate home. As they paused to gaze at it, the rich man said, “Who gets to stay here?” Saint Peter replied, “That’s for your janitor. He was a godly man who loved Jesus and served Him all his life. This is his reward.”
They continued to stroll past other mansions, until they stopped in front of an extremely large one that seemed to be made of emeralds and rubies. The rich man asked Peter, “Is this mine?” Peter answered, “No, this one belongs to your maid. On the little bit of money you paid her, she raised six children and gave to her church every week.”
They continued to walk and came to a different section of homes. Only these houses weren’t as nice. As they walked up a small hill, they stopped in front of a shack made of tar paper and used sheet metal. The front door was cut out of an old refrigerator box. It was held together with bailing wire and twine.
After pausing for a moment, the rich man asked, “And whose is that?” Peter responded, “Why, it’s yours!” The rich man couldn’t believe it. There must be some mistake. Peter bowed his head and said, “No, there’s been no mistake — we did the best with what you sent ahead!”