When our son David was little, we were teaching him and his brother Paul some of the “good old kids songs,” like, “The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me!” And so one day we had them sing for the old VCR camera, and David proudly sings, “The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for YOU!” I’ve always laughed about that, because that is exactly what a lot of people do with the Bible — they want make it apply to everyone EXCEPT themselves. It’s for “YOU” — not for “ME”!
And some of us might be tempted to do that with our scripture passage we have today. It begins with the words, “Instruct those who are rich …” and so many of us might be tempted to think: “Well, ‘the rich,’ that’s for someone else, not for me!” But let’s look at to whom these verses are addressed, and how we need to apply them. There are some really good, practical applications for ALL of us in these verses.
I. WHO ARE “THE RICH”?
:17 says “Instruct those who are rich in this present world …”. So he’s talking to “rich people,” the scripture says.
Who are “the rich people”? President Biden might tell you that “the rich” are those Americans who make over $400,000 a year — he promised not to tax anyone under that amount; only “the rich,” who make over $400,000. So the President might say that this scripture is written to those making over $400,000 per year, which is probably NOT most of us … so many of us could theoretically just say: “Well, this scripture doesn’t apply to me! Let’s just skip it and move on!” But it may apply to more of us than we realize.
First, though many don’t know it, there were a number of rich followers of Jesus in the Early Church.
— I Corinthians 1:26, which says “there were not many noble” among you and says: the fact is, this DOES indicate that there WERE SOME noble among them! There WERE some number of “people of privilege,” or rich. — And remember James gave a warning in Chapter 2 of his book NOT to show partiality to the rich among them. So there WERE rich people among them — even in the early church!
That was so with Jesus’ original disciples. Luke 8:3 tells us that as Jesus was going about proclaiming the Kingdom of God, that Mary Magdalene, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others were contributing to their support out of their own means. So it is interesting — and I don’t think many have really pondered it much — that scripture seems to indicate that Jesus’ ministry here on earth was funded primarily by a group of well-to-do people, and most of them women.
All to say that from the very first days of Christianity, there are have been those to whom the words here “those who are rich in this present world” might apply.
But I think that you and I can also see this in another light today: that from the perspective of world history as a whole, and especially today’s economic context, virtually ALL of us are “rich” by any common definition.
- The Washington Post reported that, even adjusted for cost of living, the average American makes TEN TIMES the income of people who live elsewhere in the world! TEN TIMES! We just don’t realize how rich we are, compared to much of the rest of the world.
- In fact, the Post surveyed Americans and asked them how much they thought the average salary was outside the U.S. The average American in the group guessed that people elsewhere in the world made about $20,000 a year. The real answer is 1/10 of that: $2000 per year is the average that most people around the world make.
- That same study revealed that virtually EVERY AMERICAN IS IN THE TOP 10% of income in the whole world. Every one of us in this room is likely among the top 10% of the richest people in the world! (Wash. Post, Gautam Nair, 8/23/2018)
- And when you think about it, you can see how true it is: Do you have a home, with a roof on it? (many of our walk-in closets are about the size of a home in India or Vietnam!) You are rich! Do you have a car — not even a new car; ANY car? If you do, then you are RICH, by world standards. Do you carry around in your pocket one of these supercomputers that is 100,000 times more powerful than the computer they had on the Apollo 11 spacecraft that flew to the moon?! And from it you call anyone in the world; from it you can look up anything you want to know instantly, listen to anything you want to listen to; buy anything at the click of a button from this device? Do you not see how you are rich?
By all the standards of the world; by all the standards of history, you and I are all RICH! There are very few of us here this morning whom 90% of the people in the world, who are making $2000 a year, would not call rich!
- These facts should lead us into our season of Thanksgiving over the next weeks with true gratitude. We have SO much to be thankful for. By all standards of history and the world around us, we are all rich!!
- And #2, that means when God says here “Instruct those who are rich in this present world” — that He is speaking to YOU! He is speaking to ME! These verses aren’t addressed to the “rich” that Joe Biden plans to tax; they are addressed to all of us. God is talking to US here.
Understanding that, then, what does He have to say to us?
II. YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS YOUR RICHES
Being “rich” according to any reasonable definition, what then should our attitude be?
— First of all, he says in :17 don’t be CONCEITED about what you have.
King David had the right attitude about his riches — specifically the money he gave towards building the Temple of God. He said in I Chronicles 29:14, after he and the people of Israel had given very generous offerings for the new Temple: “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given to You.
He was saying God, it’s from Your own hand that we are giving these things to You. We’re like little kids, to whom the dad gives them the money so they can buy him a Christmas present! David says, God, everything we have, YOU gave us.
That’s the attitude we should have as well. Whatever I have, I owe to God. (That’s the meaning of the tithe: when we give our first 10% back to God, we are embodying this attitude of humility. We are saying, Lord, I realize that everything I have, ultimately comes from YOU. YOU gave it to me. You allowed me to have the health and strength and ability to earn it. And I’m showing that I recognize this by giving this first portion of it back to You. We shouldn’t be conceited about our riches, but humble, and grateful to God.
— Second, he says, we should not have an attitude of TRUST in them.
He says here, do not put your trust in what he calls, “the uncertainty of riches”— this is exactly right! We should never put our trust in riches, because riches are uncertain. You may have them one day, and lose them the next. So we should never glory in them, boast in them, or especially put our trust in them. They can literally be here one day, and gone the next.
Lyndon Johnson’s forefathers built an “empire” on the Pedernales River in Central Texas: they had a huge house, a large ranch, all kinds of land and cattle. But one year, as Robert Caro wrote: “spring came, but rain didn’t.” Nothing grew. Then they lost all their cattle on the cattle drive. “Mortgages were foreclosed, lawsuits began … after struggling to make a few more token payments on (their debt) they could make no more — and they lost the mill anyway. They had been building an empire; a single disastrous year, and it was all gone.” (Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, pp. 29-30)
Folks, we are foolish to think that can’t happen to us. That’s why God says, Do not put your trust in “the uncertainty of riches.” There is nothing wrong with money, God show us here. It can be used for all kinds of good things, for Kingdom causes — and even just to enjoy, as we shall see in a minute. But He says, don’t put your trust in it. “A single disastrous year, and it can all be gone.”
He says, fix your hope “on God” instead.
III. ENJOY YOUR RICHES
And notice how generous God is; He is no stingy God: Paul calls Him, “God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” Now this may sound odd to some of us — it almost sounds like some kind of “prosperity preaching,” like you’d hear from a televangelist, but we see it right here in the Bible: God wants us to ENJOY some of our material blessings! There is nothing wrong with that. The Bible word here is “apo-lauo” — “to take from, enjoyment”! God wants us to take some enjoyment from the things He has blessed us with.
This may sound kind of odd to many of us, but God wants you to just ENJOY some of what you have earned! God is not some killjoy, like some people are, who want to make you feel guilty for everything you buy; everything you want to enjoy. You know, there’s always someone who says, “Well, you could have fed 10 people for a year instead of doing that thing/or buying that thing.”
And the fact is, there WERE some people in scripture who said things like that: John 12 says when Jesus was at Mary & Martha & Lazarus’ home in Bethany, “Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, 5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?” 6 Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.”
What Judas said is almost exactly the argument that so many people use to this day: “You could have fed 500 people with that money,” and so on. But who used that argument in the Bible? Not God. Not Jesus. JUDAS ISCARIOT is the one who talked that way!
We need to realize that God is no miserly God who doesn’t want you to enjoy anything. It says God blesses us with things “TO ENJOY”! “To take enjoyment from”! Some of us may need to memorize this verse and stop criticizing others — or maybe even stop feeling guilty ourselves — for ever enjoying anything with our money.
We are coming up on some of the best holidays of the year here in a few days: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, (Cheryl’s Birthday!) … Let’s celebrate and enjoy these times with the people we love and the riches that God has blessed us with. He has “richly supplied us with all things to enjoy”! Enjoy it — and as you do, praise and thank the God who has given them to you, to richly enjoy.
But … as in everything, don’t take this too far. Yes, you can enjoy some of what God has blessed you with. But you also need to keep it in balance, as we see next:
IV. BE GENEROUS WITH YOUR RICHES
:18 gives us the balance. And notice it is a 4-fold command:
— do good
— be rich in good works
— be generous
— “and ready to share”
This generosity really begins with our attitude toward our riches, as we saw a minute ago. If we think we made it all ourselves, and owe it all to ourselves, then we might tend to be stingy with what we have. But the Christian person realizes that GOD has blessed them with what they have — even when they have worked very hard for it, it was GOD who gave them their health, strength, drive, and perseverance — and God who arranged all the Providences that “just happened to fall in place” for them all along the way. And because they recognize that, they are ready to give: not only the tithe back to God, but they are also ready to share with others who do have not the blessings that they do. The Christian person, as this verse says, has the attitude of being “ready to share.”
This summer, Cheryl & I visited George H.W. Bush’s Presidential Library at Texas A&M, and we really loved it. So of course I had to read a biography on President Bush 41, which I had never done. It was very interesting. He was brought up, as a lot of people know, in very well-to-do circumstances (which some people criticized him for) but despite that, his whole life, for people who really knew him, he was known for his generosity. Even as a little boy, his friends gave him the nickname: “Have half”, because whenever he got a treat — a candy bar, or whatever — he was always ready to share some with his friends, and he would always say: “Have half!” What a great nickname — and how much that reveals about his character: “have half;” he was always ready to share. (I wonder what nickname some US might get — “MINE!” Or “Mitts off my cookie?”!)
But this is how God desires us to do with our riches: he wants us to be ready to share. To realize that He has been so gracious us, and so we should turn around and be generous with others; “ready to share.”
V. INVEST YOUR RICHES
:19 speaks of the investment in the future: “laying up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future” — why? Because what we give to God’s Kingdom, & share with others from the riches God has given us, we are “sending on ahead” to an eternal reward in heaven.
Jesus spoke of this in Luke 16, in The Parable of the Unrighteous Steward. He said, use your “mammon” (or worldly wealth) in such a way that when it fails (as all earthly riches do) then “they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” — in other words, invest your earthly riches, which are perishing, into an investment that will last for eternity: the reward you’ll get for it in the Kingdom of God.
So we shouldn’t look at what we give to people in need, or to God’s Kingdom work, just as “charity,” but also as an investment that will pay dividends in eternity. I shared with you a few weeks ago that our son Michael is doing well with his new job in South Carolina, and he is learning to budget his money. One thing I am glad that he is doing is taking a portion of every check and investing it in the 401k that his company offers. Every paycheck, a certain percentage comes out — and the company matches it or adds to it — and it is invested in that 401k that one day will pay off when he retires — he’ll have all that money back, with interest. It’s a great investment for the future. Many of you are doing the same thing; and that’s good; that’s smart.
We talked about this a bit just a few weeks ago: we should look at what we give to God’s Kingdom work as an eternal investment. Every time you tithe; every time you give to missions or to help someone in need, you are really “investing” in eternity — and one day, when you “retire” in heaven, all that you have given will pay off with a rich eternal reward. Just like this passage says, you are storing “up for yourselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future” — in heaven. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we should “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupts, nor thieves break in and steal.” It’s the best investment you can make: one that can never be stolen or lost or destroyed. Invest your riches into the Kingdom of God.
Some of us should take some time — maybe this Sunday afternoon — to look over our finances. How much are you spending and enjoying; how much are you saving — and how much are you investing in eternity, in the things of God? There’s a place for all of these uses of our money, just make sure you’re sending ahead an appropriate portion of what you make into the “eternal 401k” that God has waiting for you in glory!
VI. SOMETHING GREATER THAN YOUR RICHES
What we do with our money is important, and thank God the Bible does give us some good directions on how we should use it. But In :19 he shares an even MORE important thing. After all this instruction on our riches, he says: be sure you “take hold of that which is life indeed.”
You may remember that last week, as we studied Romans 1:17, the verse that God used to save Martin Luther, that we saw that the word “life” in the Bible often refers to “eternal life.” It just so happens that this passage today is another one of those places. When he says “take hold of that which is LIFE INDEED,” he’s saying, make sure you take hold of eternal life.
And that is indeed something that you need to “make SURE” you have taken hold of. Eternal life does not come to you automatically. You have to “take hold” of it. The Bible word here literally means to take someone by the hand. Someone can reach their hand out to you — to greet you or shake your hand — but you have a choice as to whether you will take that hand or not.
Years ago in another state there was a man in our church who got mad at me because of something the church had voted to do. I tried to work out some compromises with him, but he would have none of it, and he angrily left the church. I hated that it happened, but I wasn’t angry at him. It was several years later that Cheryl & I went to see a play in the city next to us, and it turned out that this man and his family had tickets sitting right next to us! There is NO WAY that was an accident! I knew God in His Providence had put us together to give us a chance to make things right, so as soon as I saw him, I greeted him, and I stuck my hand out to shake hands. But he just glared at me, and wouldn’t take my hand. I felt sorry for him, that he had such bitterness in his heart. I stretch out my hand, and offered him acceptance, and forgiveness — but he wouldn’t take it. I was sorry for that. But the choice was his.
In the same way, we have all broken our relationship with God by our sin. We have all rebelled against Him and broken His commandments. But in His grace, God still loved us, and came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and died on the cross to pay for our sins. So now He offers us forgiveness, the restoration of the relationship that we broke with Him — and yes, eternal life, with all its benefits. God, in a very real sense, is stretching out His hand to us, offering all of this to us. But it doesn’t just come to us automatically. We have to “take hold of it,” like this verse says. We have to admit that we were wrong; that we have sinned against Him; and stretch out our hand and take His forgiveness and salvation. But God doesn’t make us do it. He gives us a choice. He says “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” His hand is stretched out to us. The choice is ours, to “take hold” of eternal life — or NOT.
The danger here, in the context of these scriptures, is the deceitfulness of riches. Because many of us are rich in this life, we think we have all we need and more; many of us feel like “self-made men”; we think we don’t need God, and won’t humble ourselves and receive Jesus. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 19, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
But your riches won’t save you. In fact, the Book of Ezekiel says there is coming a day when “They will fling their silver into the streets and their gold will become an abhorrent thing; their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.” (7:19)
Riches can be a good thing. But the Bible says a time is coming when your riches can’t help you.
In 1867 when Mark Twain visited Europe he came to the city of Pompeii, which had been suddenly destroyed by lava and ashes from the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius. Twain wrote that in one of the long halls they dug up in the city after the volcano, they found the skeleton of a man with ten pieces of gold in one hand and a large key in the other. When this man saw the disaster coming, he went to get his gold first, and then started toward the door, but Twain wrote: “the fiery tempest caught him at the very threshold, and he sank down and died. One more minute of precious time would have saved him.” (Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, pp. 301-302)
That man thought his money was SO important. But it wasn’t THAT important. He had all that gold in his hand, but all that gold couldn’t save him. Which is a good reminder to us today: life is not all about money. It’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is making sure that you “take hold of eternal life.”
Have you done that? God’s offering eternal life to you, right now. He’s holding out His hand. But you have to reach out and “take hold of it.” If you’ve never done it, make today the day that you “take hold of eternal life.”
God’s word is so amazing. If you look carefully at these verses you see a virtual money-management course hidden right here in these scriptures. What should you do with your money? Enjoy some. Share some. Invest some. That’s a pretty good basic financial strategy! As we’re nearing year’s end, it might be a good time to sit down and evaluate where you are financially. Maybe you need to make out a new plan for your finances for 2022, one that includes spending and giving and investing.
But more important than all of that, the Bible says, realize the limits of earthly riches. Be sure you have the most important riches — heavenly riches — and make sure that you yourself have “taken hold of eternal life.”
— Ask God: What should MY response to this message be? Do I need to look over my finances and make a plan according to God’s word? Is there someone or something God’s leading me to share with? Are there some specific ways God would tell you that you need to make money or the pursuit of money, less central in your life?
— Most importantly, have you ever “taken hold of eternal life”? If not, why don’t you do it right now …