Spend Less

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19

December 6, 2009 | Brian Bill

Note: The idea for this series and some content comes from a book by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder called, “Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?”  

When I was growing up, I always waited until Christmas Eve to begin shopping for my four sisters.  As I raced down the aisles, I grabbed whatever grabbed my attention, providing it didn’t cost too much, and threw it in my cart.  When I got home, I dumped the four measly gifts out on the floor and decided who should get what. I then grabbed some newspaper and duct tape and wrapped them up. 

My sisters always dreaded opening my presents because they’d get newspaper ink on their hands, the clothes never fit and the knick-knacks were just plain junk.  I was offended when all four of them would head back to Shopko the day after Christmas to return their gifts and get something they really wanted.  

One of my sisters reminded me this week that I used this same shopping strategy when I bought Beth a sweater at Shopko when we were engaged.  That probably explains the look on her face when she opened the box – at least I used a box!  This is what my sister Cathy wrote after she read this introduction: “And then, how your shopping skills continued with your fiancée…ugly Shopko sweaters for Beth…you’re lucky she didn’t run when she got that first gift.”  

As we continue in our Advent Conspiracy series, we’re focusing today on how we can spend less.  One way to do that is to buy cheap gifts and forgo the wrapping paper, but we’re going to discover that striving to spend less is not just a way to get out of spending our shekels.  Instead, as we learned last week, when we worship fully, we will seek out ways to spend less so that we will be in a position to give more.  Here’s a summary of last Sunday’s sermon: When we understand Christmas more deeply, we will worship Christ more fully.  We learned that when we enter into the story of Christmas, we’ll respond like the original cast of characters, with adoration and action.  They Offered, Jumped, Magnified, Obeyed, Adored, Hurried, Praised, Marveled, Witnessed and Worshipped.

In order to get us thinking outside of the box, let’s pause and ponder one pastor’s short version of the history of Christianity: “Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.” What do you think of this?  Is this an accurate portrayal?  What are some ways that Christianity has become an enterprise in America?

Do you know what the fastest growing religion is in the world?  It’s not Islam or Christianity.  The symbol of this rising faith is not the crescent or the cross, but a dollar sign.  This expanding belief system is radical consumerism and it promises transcendence, power, pleasure, and fulfillment even as it demands complete devotion.  I’m afraid that many American Christians have incorporated this devotion to consumerism with their Christian faith.  The consumer culture we live in claims that the material things we want will elevate us above our current circumstances.

The headlines that scream at us are crazy.  Here’s one that I saw a couple weeks ago: “Savers Slowing Economy.”  While I didn’t get the best grade in my college macro-economics class, I do know that consumer spending accounts for 70% of our economy.  It’s almost as if we’re being urged to shop our way out of the recession, even though many of us are struggling financially ourselves.  One pastor writes: “How strange and sad it is that debt and consumerism reach their pinnacle on the morning we celebrate the birth of Jesus – the Savior who came to liberate us from these things.”

And the cry from commercials and print ads is incessant, isn’t it?  Here are just three that I tore out from the recent issue of Newsweek.  One electronic product has a bright red bow around it with this caption, “The Ultimate Gift.”  Another screams out, “Give the Gift that Will Thrill Everyone!”  The third full-page ad has Christmas lights around the border with two views of a shiny car in the middle with these words emblazoned in red at the top: “Joy to the Wallet.”  I can’t quite figure out how spending $30,000 on this model will bring joy to the wallet.

Here’s the deal.  At the very heart of consumerism is dissatisfaction and discontentment.  Check out this quote: “We are constantly searching for the one thing that will satisfy us.  Yet each time we trust the promises of our possessions, more barriers are raised between our true selves and God’s plain command to love [Him] above all things.  It’s not that we necessarily want more – it’s that what we want is something we can’t buy.”  (From “Advent Conspiracy,” page 24)  

If we want this Christmas season to be different, we must learn the secret of being content

Here’s the sermon in a nutshell today: If we want this Christmas season to be different, we must learn the secret of being content.  In the midst of our consumer culture, the words of Christ from Luke 12:15 should cause us to pause: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  If you’re not happy without something; you won’t be happy with it either.  Or, as someone has said, “If you can’t be happy with what you already have, why should God give trust you with anything else?” Despite this caution, many of us are still think that if we just had more money, then we’d be happy.  John Rockefeller was once asked, “How much money is enough?”  His answer: “Just one more dollar.”

In the midst of all this mess, we need a fresh look at the Christmas story to see both the simplicity of the Savior’s birth and the extravagance of the Almighty who gave His Son as the ultimate gift of all.  Listen to these familiar words found in Luke 2:7: “And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  

Rick McKinley urges us to take a fresh look at the original Christmas story because “the story has been bought and sold and marketed and commercialized for hundreds of years.  Yet the story remains deeper and more meaningful than most of us often realize…Why would God do that?  The answer can help us go from life-absorbing shopping lists this Christmas to life-altering significance.  When Jesus came to us, He came in simplicity to a humble couple who had very little money.  So the true meaning of Christmas has never been about stuff; it has always been about Him.” 

Ed Setzer nails it when he says this: “Many Christians are saying, ‘Enough!’  The Advent season needs a gospel simply proclaimed and the work of Jesus simply done…our return to the simplicity of the gospel is a necessity…the gospel never needed tinsel to look good anyway.”

Some of you are not experiencing contentment simply because you are looking in other places for that which only God can provide.  Proverbs 10:23: “The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”  In Isaiah 55:2 God wonders why we don’t come to Him for contentment while we persist in pursuing those things that were never designed to satisfy: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” If we want this Christmas season to be different, we must learn the secret of being content.

Characteristics of Contentment

I see five characteristics of contentment from 1 Timothy 6.  Would you please turn there?

  • To grow in godliness we must become content.  Look at verse six: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  We should be content with our God-given circumstances but never satisfied with our spiritual growth.  Unfortunately our tendency is to do just the opposite.  Many of us are content with where we are spiritually and very discontent with our circumstances.  
  • Turn over the ownership of all you have to God.  Everything belongs to God; He just lets us manage our money and steward our possessions for a brief time.  Verse 7 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
  • Be thankful for the basics of life.  We see this in verse 8: “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Some of us need to have our needs reduced not our possessions increased.  F.B. Meyer put it this way: “Contentment consists not in adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire.”  Let me give you a practical suggestion.  When contemplating the purchase of another possession or attending some activity, ask yourself this question: “Is this a need or a greed?”  This is important to do because in our culture today almost everything is presented as a need.  
  • If you pursue riches you will have problems.  That’s what verse 9 is all about: “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.”  Look next at verse 10: “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.”
  • If we have more than we must give more.  Those who have been blessed have a greater responsibility to be generous. Drop down to verses 17-19: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” 

Here’s the bottom line, whether your bottom line is a lot or a little: Work at wanting what you have even if you don’t have everything you want.  Let me say it differently.  The key to contentment is not having everything you want but wanting everything you already have.  

This is stated clearly in Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”  We love to quote the last part of this verse but we forget that God’s promise to not leave us is linked to us not loving money.  This is actually very comforting because when our cash supplies are lacking God will never turn His back on us.  We don’t have to go through all the stress and our money mess on our own – He will never leave us and He will never forsake us.

The Secret of the Contented Life

Turn now to Philippians 4:11-12: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  

How could Paul say that he was “content whatever the circumstances?”  It’s because he knew, and we should as well, that circumstances are always changing.  If we expect everything to stay the same, we will be disappointed and discontentment will take up residence in our lives.  Paul chose to be content “in any and every situation.” This is a sweeping statement that covers every condition of life.

The phrase, “to learn” means to discover by experience, to enter into a new condition.  We could translate it this way: “I have come to learn.”  How do we do this?  What’s the secret Paul is referring to?  How can we become satisfied in every situation?   I think we could state the secret this way.  Are you ready for this?  It may jar you but I believe it’s true.  You might want to lean forward to hear it because it’s a secret.  I’m going to whisper it to you: God has so ordered the world and your personal circumstances that no matter what situation you are in right now, you have everything you truly need to be content.  You might have plenty today and tomorrow be in poverty or you may abound today and tomorrow be abased, and not understand why, but as F.B. Meyer says, “He has a reason, though He may not tell it to you, and because you know that the reason satisfies Him, you may be content!”

Tough times teach us what really matters and what we really need.  Let me remind you of some of Paul’s circumstances.  In 1 Corinthians 4:11, he states: “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.”  What he went through makes my misery seem like a walk in the park.  

Our deepest satisfaction can only come from God, not from a change in our circumstances or by spending all of our shekels at Christmas time

And yet, somehow he could say in 2 Corinthians 6:10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”  Contentment does not emerge out of what we do; it grows out of what we go through.  Paul was a contented Christian.  Are you?  Our deepest satisfaction can only come from God, not from a change in our circumstances or by spending all of our shekels at Christmas time.  If we want this Christmas season to be different, we must learn the secret of being content.

Advent Action

In an effort to make sure our “Advent Conspiracy” is practical, I offer these advent actions for you to consider.

1. Pause and ponder.

Luke 2:19 tells us that when Mary listened to all that the shepherds told her, she “… treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Jesus is the true treasure, isn’t He?  The simple yet extravagant story of the Savior’s birth is good news of great joy for all people.  Will you take some time to treasure all these things and ponder them in your heart?  Read the Christmas story in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 slowly and ponder the deep meaning of what it means that Immanuel, God with us, has come to dwell in us.

2. Invite Jesus into your “impossible” situation. 

What is it that you’re worried about today?  What situation seems so overwhelming that you’re losing sleep at night?  Maybe it’s your finances or a relationship that is rupturing.  Perhaps you’re worried about some parenting struggles.  Is there a sinful habit you just can’t seem to break?  Remember this – Christmas is a time for miracles to take place.  I love the words of Gabriel to Mary found in Luke 1:37: “For nothing is impossible with God.”

3. Buy one less gift this year and use that money to give more. 

C.S. Lewis believed that the best way to break money’s power is to give it away, yet he never suggested a rigid formula for giving.  He wrote these words: “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid 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.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”

4. Tell your family and close friends that you don’t want a typical Christmas present this year. 

This won’t work if they weren’t planning on giving you anything in the first place!  But if someone asks you what you want this year, redirect them to a favorite ministry of yours.  You could tell them to use the money they would have spent and send it to an orphan, or to use it to buy Bibles for the persecuted church, or to send it to the pregnancy center, to one of our missionaries, or to a needy family in the church.

5. Reflect and receive. 

As I reflect on two major events in the news this past week, I’ve appreciated the Christmas story even more.  

  • The first story is about a sports figure that holds the top spot for being the most recognized and highest-paid athlete in the world.  Not only that, up until this week he has had a squeaky clean image.  I remember watching a clip from a tournament that he was playing in when many in the crowd waved their arms and bowed in mock adoration of him.  That’s all changed now because the whole world knows about his sins or as he put it, his “transgressions.”  I see two lessons from this story.  First, we are all sinners and the only one worthy of worship is Jesus Christ, the sinless one.  Second, each of us must take heed lest we fall.
  • The second account relates to the couple who supposedly entered the White House without an invitation.  These “party crashers” are being castigated for coming into an event uninvited.  Friends, Jesus is extending an invitation not to the White House but to His house in heaven.  You’re welcome to come in but you need to know that one day the gates will be completely closed and it will be too late and you won’t be able to sneak in.

Jesus offers you a gift that is not cheap or chintzy.  It’s the gift of salvation and it’s got your name on it.  If you’re ready to receive the gift of Jesus right now, please pray this prayer with me.

“Jesus, thank you for inviting me to come to you.  Thanks for the invitation that I don’t deserve.  I don’t understand how you can accept me when I don’t measure up and if my sins were broadcast all over the world I would be humiliated.  I confess that I am a sinner and I want to turn from the way I’ve been living.  I need you to be my Savior and so I come to you now.  You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  I desire to live under your lordship for the rest of my life.  Thank you for not only being born but for dying in my place and rising again so that I can be born again.  I now receive the gift of salvation and forgiveness by asking you to come into my life.  Make me into the person you want me to be and help me to be a content Christian.  In the name of Immanuel, I ask this.  Amen.”

Christmas and Communion

As we come to a time of communion, let’s do an inventory to see how the presence of Immanuel is helping us be content in our lives.  Let’s thank Jesus for being the sinless sacrifice who paid the price for our sins and then took the punishment that we deserved by taking our place on the cross.  We can’t look at Christmas and just see a cradle.  We must also see the cross because Jesus came to this earth in order to die for our sins.

I read a very troubling report a few days ago called, “Hindu Sacrifice of 250,000 Animals Begins.”  Here’s part of the article: “It is the traditional way. If we want anything and we come here with an offering to the goddess, within five years all our dreams will be fulfilled,” said 45-year old Manoj Shah, a Nepali driver who has been attending the event since he was six…In the main event, 250 appointed locals with traditional kukri knives began their task of decapitating more than 10,000 buffalo in a dusty enclosure guarded by high walls and armed police… A Hindu priest said he was pleased with the festival’s high turnout and insisted tradition had to be kept. “The goddess needs blood,” he said. “Then that person can make his wishes come true.” (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/24/hindu-sacrifice-gadhimai-festival-nepal). 

Sadly, they were expecting up to one million worshippers for this event.  Let’s pray that these “worshippers” would recognize that Jesus has already made the blood sacrifice!   That’s what we remember when we take communion.

As we take the bread we proclaim the truth found in Hebrews 7:26-27“Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” 

And as we take the cup, we hold on to Hebrews 9:12“He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?