What’s Wrong With This Picture?
This morning we are continuing to look at the Scripture and its very challenging, it’s very convicting message about taking the whole gospel to the whole world for the whole man, for the whole woman. But we’ve been discovering that there’s an awful lot of obstacles that stand in the way of achieving that goal. Not the least of which is our tendency to look after our own selfish interests first and foremost, and after our own self-centeredness and our own greed.
And as we examine the Bible we see that it treats wealth and possessions differently than the culture does. For instance, the Bible deals with our heart and our spending and our motives whereas the culture tends to be less about personal accountability and more about blame. And so right now as we are still dealing with the fallout of the economic downturn here in America if you listen to the pundits and the chatter in the culture we find the rich blaming the poor and the poor blaming the rich.
And then just to make it a little bit spicier you constantly have Democrats and Republicans pointing the finger at one another. And yet as far as I can tell, it’s the responsibility of both the rich and the poor. And both the Republicans and the Democrats.
The Bible brings us to look at ourselves and not to blame anyone else, but to look at our own sin and our own folly and our own rebellion with regard to how we deal with wealth and finances.
The Bible actually gives 4 categories regarding riches, wealth, and possessions.
There are people who are both righteous and rich. They obtain their wealth in a righteous way. They worked hard. They were smart about their investments. God blessed them. Things went well. And in addition to that what they do with their wealth is righteous. They give to God. They give to the poor. They take care of their family. They pay their bills on time. They take good care of their employees. You can be both righteous and rich.
But the Bible also speaks about those who are unrighteous and rich. They get their money in a way that’s dishonoring to God. They cut corners. They rip people off. They’re crooked; dishonest. They hoard their money. They don’t help the poor. They’re very very selfish. In fact we’re going to be looking at such a man in the passage from Luke today.
Thirdly there are also people who are both righteous and poor. These are folks who get their money through righteous means but they just don’t have much of it. They’re just poor. How they steward their resources is righteous. They give to God. They give to others in need. They pay their bills. They’re generous. They don’t have much but they tend to gracious and Godly with what they do have.
Think if you will, for those of you who are familiar with this, think of the story of the Widow’s Mite. Great example of someone who’s righteous and poor.
And then the Bible also speaks about people who are unrighteous and poor. They don’t work hard. They don’t work smart. They don’t invest. They don’t save. They don’t plan for retirement. They’re just kind of frivolous. And if they do get money, they usually don’t handle it very well, because they’re in this cycle of folly.
The Book of Proverbs has an awful lot to say about a cycle of folly here; about people who don’t work, who chase fantasies, and who try every “get rich quick” scheme that comes along. They live haphazardly and frivolously.
Kind of like the guy sitting beside the road with a sign. And he says, “I’m not going to lie to you. I just want money for beer.” You know, he’s poor, but he’s not poor like Jesus was poor.
Jesus was righteous and poor. But did you also know that Jesus was righteous and rich.
I ask you, in heaven, was Jesus rich or poor? He was rich! Heaven’s a nice neighborhood; really nice. It says in Corinthians that “Though He (Jesus) was rich for our sakes he came to earth and He became poor.” I want to stress this. The issue is not whether you’re rich or poor. The issue is are you righteous or unrighteous in how you obtain and steward the resources that God has entrusted to you.
Luke 12, it’s an account of an interaction that Jesus has with a crowd of people. If you were to look at verse 1 of this chapter you would find that the crowd consists of thousands of people. We picked up the story in verse 13:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Now again to capture the context. There is this great crowd of people and in the midst of Jesus’ taching and preaching there’s this guy in the crowd and It’s like this guy’s got one shot to talk to Jesus, and so he interrupts Jesus and what does he want to talk about? He wants to talk about money. He’s consumed with coveting. Apparently his father died and now they’re splitting up the family inheritance and there’s some squabbling among siblings. It’s a sad picture then. It’s a sad picture now when it happens.
Now Jesus says to him, “Who appointed me your judge and arbiter? “ And then Jesus makes this very key statement. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed…” He says, “That’s not what life is all about. It’s not about all the collection of material things.”
Now why does Jesus say, “All kinds of greed?” Is there more than one kind of greed? I think so. I mean isn’t greed about wanting more money? Not necessarily. That’s partly why we don’t see greed in ourselves because it’s not just one obvious thing. Sometimes greed is the pursuit of more money. Sometimes it’s wanting that paycheck. Sometimes it’s wanting that corner office. Sometimes it’s wanting more material possessions. And Jesus says, “I’m telling you this isn’t what life is all about.”
Greed is in us – almost from the time of birth. You know we learn very early the word, “Mine! Mine! This is mine!” And we have trouble growing out of it. “My toy. My stickers. My guitar. My girlfriend. My job. My career. My house. My Mercedes. My 401(K). My retirement. My free time.” And it just goes on and on through life.
Now is that actually true? “This job is mine. The money I’ve earned is mine.” Is that actually true?
You may be a very hard worker. But I can guarantee if you were born in Sierra Leon your income would be far far drastically different than what it is today, no matter how hard you worked. In truth we don’t have as much control of stuff as we think. We can’t control our industry. The chance encounters that landed us the great job or the big deal and resulted in our promotion. The market, boy you sure can’t control that! You can’t control the demand of the product that you’re making. And you’ve got to come to this realization first if you’re ever going to deal with greed in your life.
Paul says in Colossians 3:5 “Greed is idolatry.” Greed is just another form of bowing down and worshipping that which isn’t God.
Now Jesus has more to say in this story. Verse 16. And he told them this parable. “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? (By the way, watch all the personal pronouns here. Just pay attention to all the “I’s”, “Me’s” and “My’s.”) 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 my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
Jesus paints this picture and I found it very interesting that He begins by talking about the ground. The ground produced this abundant harvest; a good crop. I wonder if Jesus was trying to make a point about where our riches come from. He doesn’t say, “A rich man worked hard one year and he made a lot of extra money.” He says there were some circumstances beyond his control. It was the ground that produced a good crop. The crops were just on that year because the ground was great. There was just the right amount of rain. It rained at just the right times and it stopped raining when it needed to stop raining. And the weather just cooperated. Is any of that under the farmer’s control? No, not that stuff. How important is your soil when you’re a farmer?
So there’s this farmer and he comes up with this solution. He’s got this problem. He’s got “big problems.” He’s got too much. He’s got an abundance of grain. Here’s his solution. “I’ll tear down my barns and I will build bigger barns.” The farmer simply has too much. He doesn’t have room to store all he has. And so he builds bigger barns.
If we put a modern spin on it it would go something like this. A businessman’s company went public and he struck it rich. And so he said, “I’m getting a bigger house, an exclusive platinum credit card. And I’m going to diversify my investments, buy gold bars and stocks and bonds and all that. And then I’m going to build a huge house in Florida on a golf course where I’m going to spend the next 30 years of my life playing golf, shuffleboard, and bingo.” And we say, “Man, that sounds like the American Dream!”
This guy decides, “I need bigger barns.” Now we’ve seen this happen in recent years here in America. We’ve had years when there was a lot of grain. And many many people went out and they got a bigger barn to hold all their stuff. But now they can’t afford their barn.
Consider this: the average home in America in 1950 was 1000 square feet. In 1970 the average home was 1500 square feet. In the year 2000 the average size home was 2200 square feet. But that’s been necessary right because our families are getting bigger right? No. Our families are getting smaller. In fact in the last 30 years family size is down 25% while the size of our homes are up 50%. Isn’t that interesting?
Now is it a sin to have a bigger home? No. No, not if you are a good steward with your resources and you’re doing the things with your resources that God wants you to do with them. And if you can actually afford the home.
But many of us got bigger barns and then we didn’t have enough grain to fill them up. Some of us got barns. And then we got closet organizers to take care of all of our stuff. And we’ve even got a basement or a garage and even that wasn’t enough. And so in America we invented a storage facility for all of our stuff. The storage facility; the average size storage facility is the size of an average size house in the rest of the world.
You see we’re the rich folks in this story. Look what Jesus says 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?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Please notice it does not say, “This is how it will be for anyone who stores up riches for himself.” It says, “This is how it will be for anyone who stores up riches for himself AND is not rich toward God.”
And so in one statement, Jesus puts this man’s entire life, his attitude about his money, his security, his dreams, He puts it all into perspective. And he says, “You know one day you’re going to die and what good will all that stuff be? At best it will just go to someone else.” We call it the American Dream. God calls it foolishness.
Eleven times in this brief story as I counted this farmer speaks of I, me, myself. That’s what he’s concerned about, the unholy trinity of me, my, and I.” He’s rich but unrighteous.
You say, “Well Randy that’s a nice story that Jesus tells about rich people but I am not greedy. I am not rich. In fact I live from paycheck to paycheck. I’m just getting by.” I get that. But what you and I have got to get is some perspective.
Almost 60% of the people in the world live on less than $900 a year. And another 30 % makes about $9000 a year. Which leaves about 10% of the world that makes more than $9000 a year. So if you’re making more than $9000 a year you are among the 10 richest percent of people in the world. You might not be among the 10 richest percent of people in northern Virginia, but you are in the world.
So how does God who is Lord over the whole world see you and me?
Now I want to say it again because it’s so important. This is not a story about rich people. It’s a story about the subtlety of greed. That’s why Jesus says in verse 21, ““This is how it will be for anyone who stores up riches for himself AND is not rich toward God.”
That’s an interesting phrase, “rich toward God.” We tend to define greed this way. If a person has a yacht – of course we always define greed as somebody who’s got a little more than we’ve got. But a person who has a yacht. And what Jesus sees as greed is having more than enough and using the abundance all for yourself.
So let’s look to the solution to the problem. How do we become less greedy? How do we become rich toward God? How can we be more generous? It would be easy if we could just throw out a number, throw out a percentage but we can’t do that. Jesus doesn’t do that. Paul when he’s writing in the epistles about money, he doesn’t do that.
But let me give you a few ideas or principles that are based on scripture. Keep your finger here in Luke because we want to get back there. But go over to 2 Corinthians 8. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, a significant city in Greece, and he starts off by telling them about people from the Macedonian church who had apparently experienced some huge natural disaster and they’re going through very difficult times. And yet in spite of that they’re giving their money to help others who are even less fortunate than themselves.
2 Corinthians 8:1. “And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.”
Four key takeaways I think from this passage.
First realize you don’t have to be rich to be generous. Look at what Paul says about the Macedonian Christians. They were generous as a result of their overflowing joy of following God. That’s what’s to be expected - when you really connect with God and you’re really following Him. But look what else he says. He says they gave out of their extreme poverty. How do you do that? That makes no sense. What kind of person gives money away while living in a financially difficult situation of extreme poverty and hardship?
I’ll give you an answer to that: a generous person. A righteous person. The kind of person that God calls us to be. How do you do that?
Well secondly you give your heart to God first. It always starts there. Look at verse 5. “They exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” It always begins there. It always begins with giving your heart to the Lord.
Amy Carmichael said it well. She said, “You can give without loving. But you cannot love without giving.” You can’t love without giving.
People can give for the wrong motives. You know that. We all know that. We’ve all done that if the truth be told at different times in our lives. But genuine love always leads to generosity. You may not have a lot of resources, but genuine love makes you resourceful – in giving of yourself and giving of whatever you have to others. And you do that by loving God first. You always love people best when you love God first.
Thirdly get a broader perspective. There’s an interesting statement in verse 8. Paul says, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” That’s when we start getting upset, you know. Comparing us with others? You’re not supposed to compare giving with others. You don’t do that. You don’t let the left had know what the right hand is doing.” I’ve heard it all – over and over again. But here that’s exactly what Paul’s doing here.
What Paul is doing is he’s saying, “I’m showing you this example of poor people in a hard circumstance who are giving and they are giving money away joyfully. And I’m showing you this example, telling you about it in an effort to try to light a fire under you.”
Now in this room we probably have people who make in the 6 figures a year. Some who barely make 4 figures a year and lots and lots of people in between. And our tendency, our tendency, my tendency is to pretty much to hang around people who are like us. People in our neighborhood. Our coworkers. People who walk around in the same socio-economic strata as we do. And that’s part of the reason frankly why we don’t feel so greedy – because we lack perspective.
But when the church grows in diversity and there are people there that aren’t like us, that don’t look like us, and they come from different economic strata’s then all of the sudden I find myself relating to others in a way that begins to stretch me and to challenge me. It helps me to gain a perspective that I otherwise would not have.
I think we are onto something very significant in the way we have grown and changed as a church in recent years. We are becoming more and more a church that places a high priority on loving God. We see more and more people getting into the Word of God and growing in faith and in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And secondly we have become and are becoming more and more a church that places a high priority on loving and serving other people – looking to embrace people of every generation, of every ethnicity, of every economic level. And I believe this is awesome because it helps us to gain a Godly perspective on life and on Christianity and what it’s all about that we would otherwise not have.
But for an even broader and better perspective think globally. Consider that 2.6 Billion people live on our planet on less than $2 a day. People living in the United States are on average 75 times richer than people living in the poorest countries. We don’t have to be rich to be generous but we just have to have a broader perspective so that we can see that in fact we have such abundance.
Finally get an eternal perspective. Going back to Luke 12 in the 15th verse our Lord says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 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?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
We can become more generous when we realize that life is short and everything we make here, everything we accommodate, all of our toys will eventually rust out and be destroyed or will at best be handed off to somebody else. What is your money in light of eternity? If you believe that God has a future prepared for you in a new heaven and a new earth then what is life really? It’s a warm up! It’s a time of preparation. So why not invest in the real game where things count for eternity?
Now if I could just share this with you as we close. I’ve been hearing some really cool stories from individuals and families as we’ve been working our way through The Hole in Our Gospel and I’ve been hearing of some cool things that people are doing as they’re trying to live into this material and to reach out and make a difference to the least of these. And I’m just saying, I’d like to hear about them. So in the handout there you will see my email address and I’d love to hear your stories, to hear how God has been prompting and moving you.
And then the second thing that I’d like to say to you is that I’d like to challenge you to find a way to invest yourself in the work of ministry and mission. I want to challenge you this week to talk to your family, talk to God about how you can be even more invested in reaching out to patch the whole in your gospel. Ask yourself what can I do as an individual, what can we do as a church to be even more invested in ministry and mission to the least of these.
So my ask of you over these next several weeks as we conclude this Hole in Our Gospel series, let your heart be expanded in terms of what you might be able to do in terms of helping us together, together mend the hole in our gospel.
Would you stand with me? Let’s pray together.
It seems that every time we look at scripture, Lord the practicality of it, the way in which it intersects with our daily lives is just incredible. And yet I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised because You tell us that your Word is alive and active; it’s able to speak to the very core of our being. And we are grateful for that. We need that. And I ask Lord Jesus that you would help us as followers of Yours to keep our eyes wide open not only for opportunities to serve and to minister to folks right in our community but to keep our eyes and our hearts wide open in becoming rich toward God as we seek to make a difference all around the world. Find us to be, Lord I pray people who are loving You and loving one another and serving the world in tangible ways, not just talking about it but doing it. God let it be so. In Jesus name. Amen.