Sunday, January 15, 2017

Rich Toward God

In our culture financial matters can be a real source of stress—not that we worry where our next meal will come from like much of the rest of the world. Our stress is different. We are constantly barraged with images of material things that promise to make our lives better—commercials on TV, ads while we’re on the internet—I can’t check my email without getting ads from four different companies who know my buying habits and have highly paid ad agencies that target me with attractive pictures of stuff they know I want! That's not to mention billboards as I drive, a third of the space in the newspapers and magazines I read, a third of the time spent listening to the radio, and ads I'm forced to see on apps on my phone! From every direction there are constant invitations to buy nicer clothes, new cars, bigger homes, better services, and cooler toys. These just feed the always-present temptation to look at the people around me and see those who "live better” than I do. It’s attractive!

Some people can even become sad, bitter, or obsessed about it!

Here in West Knoxville it’s a real temptation. I remember moving to Farragut when I was about to enter middle school from Jefferson City. I felt like such a redneck slob compared to my stylish friends with their name brand clothes. When I saw their big houses on the lake and ski boats I felt cheated, even though my family's new house was nicer than any house any of my ancestors had probably ever had—along with 90% of the rest of the world!

There are other related pressures, of course. Like the social pressure to make lots of money. Most of us were encouraged to get a degree in order to have a good paying job. We’re told we’re wise to save for downpayment on house, save for kids’ college, put back money for retirement and invest. These are all good things, and the Bible encourages us to be wise with our money. It’s interesting that despite these pressures so few people do so and choose stress and struggle because they just can’t live within their means. Others, however, become consumed with financial gain and security above all other things.

Are you one of these? If you are honest about the things that stress you the most, are financial-related things at the top of the list?

There's a passage in the Bible for you. Luke 12:

13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

This happens right after Jesus had confronted the Pharisees with their hypocrisy and a statement by Luke that Jesus was wildly popular with the people. We do know that in that culture, a younger brother would have been subject to the decision of the oldest regarding what he would get from his father’s estate if his dad died before making a will known.

We should be able to understand this guy's problem. It’s crazy how many families position and connive and then feel bitterness toward one another after a parent dies. I know of families whose members won’t even speak to each other because of it!

This guy is trying to get Jesus, this well known prophet and rabbi, to weigh in and give him some leverage. He feels he’s being treated unfairly. It may be all he can think about and it’s consuming him. Isn’t it funny how we can obsess!? “This wrong I’m dealing with is all that matters. Because I’M all that matters. I’m going to go to Jesus about this.” So he did. He fought through the crowd and shouted his plea fully expecting Jesus to take his side.

14But [Jesus] said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?”

Jesus doesn’t get involved! Of course, it’s complete pettiness to him. He didn’t come to settle disputes among selfish children. But he saw in this an opportunity to go to the heart of the problem behind the dispute.

15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness [greed], for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Hey Americans! Land of Malcolm Forbes who said, “He who dies with the most toys, wins” did you read that? Look at verse 15 again. Read it slowly. It’s easy to be focused on the wrong things: ... things. When you desire things, you’re missing real life (according to Jesus). You must always be on your guard about this—because it’s so easy to desire things. Is this something we need to hear? Oh yes. It doesn’t matter if we’re rich or poor—we are all susceptible to covetousness or greed. It’s the American way. It's good capitalism.

The word “covetousness” in v. 15 is rendered in some translations as “greed.” Which is it? The English word, "covetousness" seems to convey wanting something someone else has, while "greed" seems to picture someone who already has more than they need and yet still want even more. We tend to slough this off, because these words don't describe us.

The Greek word is pleonexia, that actually comes from two Greek words: pleion, which means "more, greater, better; and echō, which means "I have, I hold." So it is literally “the desire to have or possess more or better” material things. Jesus is using the opportunity of this dispute over an inheritance to go to the heart—that guy’s AND ours! We all desire more and better possessions. We all tend to want more stuff. About this, Jesus said, “Beware! If your life is about getting more stuff, you’ll miss real life!”

16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’

What’s wrong with this? Sounds like he’s a pretty good entrepreneur and farmer who is wisely taking advantage of a bountiful harvest to prepare for retirement. Sounds like a shrewd capitalist who is willing to take risks. A good American! Admirable, right? I think everyone in the crowd is thinking similar thoughts. Being successful in business was and is a hallmark of Jewish culture! But if you pay attention to Jesus’ story you’ll see that for this guy, it’s all about “me.” Thirteen times he refers to himself ("I, my, myself," and other words about himself.)

What does Jesus say God's response was to his plans?

20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This passage is not a condemnation against planning for retirement. It is not a slam toward all rich people. It is definitely not a diatribe against working hard and being a wise manager or making a profit.

Here’s what it is: as we saw with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, it’s a condemnation of the wrong motives. As Jesus always does, he goes to the heart: WHY do we want more stuff and wealth? Because we love ourselves and we think that's how we make ourselves happy. But these things—even if we get them—do not satisfy. Jesus says to be rich toward God. How can we be rich toward God?

1. Remain “on guard,” the real enemy is “covetousness.” Pleonexia = the desire to have more stuff. Malcolm Forbes was wrong: “He who dies with the most toys…DIES."

We let down our guard in so many ways: When we spend time looking at stuff we want to buy on the internet. When we get upset about our worldly things being broken or stolen. When we worry about getting our share of an inheritance. When we take advantage of someone to make more profit. When we find our happiness in the size of our paycheck. When we go into debt for stuff we can’t afford. When we admire the rich and want to be like them. In all those ways and more, we’re showing what our primary purpose in life is. And this is what we communicate to our kids! "Get good grades so you can get a well-paying job. Marry someone rich. Be smart with your money. Because wealth equals happiness."

I must be honest and confess my constant battle with the desire for more stuff. My eyes seem to always be looking for things others have that are better than mine. Nicer houses in nicer places (on the lake or a mountaintop, at the beach, etc.), nicer cars, stylish clothes, better vacations, more toys (guns, motorcycles, boats, campers, tools, 4-wheelers, whatever!), great electronics (iPhones, TVs, computers, watches, sound systems, musical instruments), and enough money to furnish the house, maintain the stuff, and pay all the bills with some to spare. I bet I’m not alone. No matter how wealthy you are, I bet you struggle with the same thing.

I’ve never been wealthy, but I’ve known many wealthy people—some closely. There’s always that next level of wealth or luxury that’s greater than where you are. Whether you live in a trailer park or own a mansion on the lake, you can’t help but be aware of and admire or envy that person who has more than you. They seem a little happier. It’s such a temptation.

And it’s an illusion.

An illusion that our enemy uses so effectively to draw our attention away from what really satisfies—what is truly beautiful, lasting, and valuable. We are introduced to this drug of covetousness at an early age—it grows naturally from our sinful, selfish souls. We see someone who has something we don’t and we long for it. And then we might experience a buzz when we get that thing for a Christmas or birthday present. But it never lives up to the expectation. It breaks, or we get bored with it. Something else comes along that garners our fancy and we now are fixated on it. Then the next thing, and the next. We need more money as our things increase. Styles change. Our houses grow in size and fill up. Even as we get older, most of us recognize the folly of this endless pursuit. That’s why our parents and grandparents tell us, “Don’t get me anything for Christmas.” And when we try to buy them something anyway, we can’t think of what to get because, “They have everything.” Yet they themselves oftentimes shower gifts on their grandchildren—like addicted drug pushers creating new junkies! Then when they die we fight over their stuff (that they could not take with them) and sell off the rest of it so that we can buy more stuff of our own. And one day we will die like them. And our kids will do the same with ours.

But the big, BIG deal at that point (when we die) will be clear. We will then know what all that stuff was really worth. Absolutely nothing. Worse, it may have been a HUGE distraction—a mirage—that kept us from seeing the really important things: That people are much more valuable than things, money, land, houses, experiences, and luxury. That helping people is much more satisfying than having their admiration. And most of all, that knowing God and making him known is infinitely more meaningful than pursuing wealth and stuff and temporary happiness—and ALL else IS temporary. The truth is all else usually does not result in happiness at all, despite it’s Siren song. It results in brokenness, emptiness, loneliness, disappointment, and dissatisfaction—usually veiled behind a mask of smiling respectability and style.

Jesus reveals the mirage and tells us about THE reality and calls us out of the addiction to stuff.

He calls us to surrender to him and find our joy in him. He calls us to recognize that all things are his and to rightly see ourselves as stewards rather than owners. He calls us to enjoy and manage what he has entrusted to us and use it, invest it, and give it for the sake of his glory. That is what he meant when he said to be “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

So, will you live in the illusion, in the inebriated state of covetousness and love of earth and pursue it’s riches? Or will you recognize the great lie that has led countless millions—rich and poor—to their deaths and eternal damnation. Will you continue pursuing that myth that you can find satisfaction in earthly stuff and wealth or will you wisely trust Christ’s words and choose him—surrender to him?

How can we be rich toward God?

2. Find your satisfaction in Christ and Christ alone. That is ultimate contentment.

Psalm 16:
2I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
...4The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply…
5The Lord is my chosen portion…
6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
...8I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be shaken.
9Therefore my heart is glad,
and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
...11You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

If you desire him, all other things take care of themselves. But we desire stuff of earth. In aiming so low we rob ourselves of the real blessing.

In Philippians 4: Paul wrote, 11...I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Are you tired of being subject to the rat race and ups-and-downs of finding your fulfillment in worldly things? Surrender and pursue him!

Finally,

3. It’s ok to be rich! If your wealth is for God.

How can we be rich toward God? The word translated “toward” is “eis” and literally means “unto, for” and here (according to Thayers Greek Lexicon) “for the purpose and promotion of God’s glory.” What does that look like? Among other things:

•You recognize that everything is God’s and has been given to you by God.

•You ask: Does the house (or car, or lifestyle) I have or want bring glory to God?

•You ask: How can I give to most impact the world and make him famous?

God gives some people the ability to teach or sing and he wants to use these gifts for his glory. It is the same with wealth. God gives some (like the rich man in Jesus' parable) wealth they didn’t get on their own. He gives some the ability to make much money. He wants them to be generous. To bless others. To give for kingdom causes. Or is it about you?

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