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Gods of Success, Part 2

From the series Gods at War

Water’s absolutely necessary for life. You’d only last a few days without it. But on the flip side, did you know it’s possible to die from drinking too much water? In this program, guest teacher Kyle Idleman continues his series “Gods at War”… by sharing how too much of a good thing can actually be dangerous to our well-being.

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Message Transcript

And so, this man has great confidence in his spiritual success: “I have kept all these since I was a boy.”

Verse 22, Jesus takes aim at the god, the primary god that sits on the throne of this man’s heart. “When Jesus heard this He said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ When he heard this, the man became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.”

Now, the adjective that is used here to describe this man’s wealth would have put him above pretty much everyone else at that time and in that geographical area. He was towards the very top. And as you read this story, here’s what often is done, and this is how we often read this story is we see, we see this as a story about money.

This is not a story about money. This is a story about idolatry. The problem with this man is not that he had a lot of money. The problem is that the money had him. The Bible does not say that money is the root of all kinds of evil. It says the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And you may be rich, or you may be poor – that’s really not the issue. It’s not about whether or not you have money. It’s whether or not money has you.

And he has turned it into a false god. And the reason Jesus talks so much about money in Scripture is because money has for us the most potential, I think, of any false god, to become a god substitute.

And so, Jesus talked more about money than He talked about heaven and hell, than He talked about sin and judgment. He talked more about money than He talked about prayer. In the Sermon on the Mount, He mentions idolatry only briefly, but when He speaks of idolatry, the only application He gives is that of money.
Listen to what He says in Matthew 6:24. Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
And so, money in the Bible is consistently portrayed as God’s chief competition. Now, here’s why. And this was very helpful to me personally when I understood this. The things in our life that have the most ability, the most potential to become a false god are the things that promise to do for us what only God can do.

The things that have the most potential to become a false god are the things that carry with them a false promise that they can do for us what only God can do.

Uh, a woman by the name of Simone Weil. She says this was the issue for her in her life. “One has only the choice between God and idolatry.” It’s your only choice. “If one denies God, one is worshipping some things of this world in the belief that one sees them only as such.” You are worshipping these things thinking, These are just things. I’m worshipping the things of this world thinking they are just the things of this world, “…but in fact,” she says, “though unknown to one’s self, though you don’t even realize it, you are in fact imagining the attributes of divinity in them.”

You are imagining the attributes of divinity in them. You are ascribing to them things that are only true of God. Now, think how we do this when it comes to money. What do we say about money? Well, one thing we say is that money will satisfy me. We give money this divine attribute that it has the power to satisfy our souls. And in doing so, we make it a god in our lives.

If you ask most people, “What is the definition of success for you,” the word happiness would show up. Aristotle called happiness the chief good. It is the ultimate purpose, he would say, for existence is to be happy.

And when you talk to people about, “Well, what is it going to take to be happy for you?” It doesn’t take long for them to start speaking in terms of dollars and cents. Eventually, money becomes the symbol for our happiness. And so, when we see money as something that has the ability to satisfy us, we are giving it a divine attribute.

And yet we have seen over and over again, is the evidence says otherwise. Forbes magazine, when they put out their seventy-fifth anniversary issue, it was five hundred and seventy pages long and the majority of it went to unpacking this theme: Why do we, in America, feel so bad if we have it so good?

They asked eleven of their best writers to probe this question. Well, you can read through the whole thing. It really comes down to a very simple equation: Money does not equal happiness. And yet, we want to believe that it would satisfy.

Satisfaction is not something that you can take off the rack, order off the Internet, or drive off the lot. We think we can do that. We think, If I could drive this car, I would be satisfied. And every time we see someone else driving that car, we think, If only I could drive that car. We go through the home-a-rama homes and we think, If only I lived in this home, then I would be satisfied. But what are we doing? We are giving money and wealth and possessions a divine attribute. We are saying that it has the power to do for us what only God can do.

Another thing we say about money is that money can make me significant. And when we talk about people’s worth, we almost always talk about their net worth. And we start to determine someone’s value by their valuables and when we do that, we are ascribing to money a divine attribute.

See, God wants to be the person gives us significance. He wants to be the person to give us worth. But when we look to money to do that, which we often do, we are making that a god in our life. I mean, I don’t know if you’re like me, but I can do that. Like, if I’m driving and I have driven a number of run-down, trashy cars in my life. And when I am driving one of those cars, you know how I feel about myself? I don’t feel very good. I put the mirror flap down and I put the seat back and I try not to be seen and – why? Because we start to determine our value by our valuables. And when we do that, we are making it a god.

Another thing we say about money is that money will bring us security. That’s a belief that we have. God wants to be our security and when we look to money for security, we are making that our god. We are giving it a divine attribute saying, “Oh, you can make me secure.”

And whatever you put your security in is ultimately your god. Most of us have come to believe that comfort and security is something that has a price tag. That with enough money, we can be comfortable, we can find security. If I just had enough money, then I could have health insurance and it wouldn’t really matter if I got sick, that the hospital bills would be paid for.

If I had enough money, life insurance and my family would be taken care of. If I could just save enough, they would have that nest egg. If I have enough money, then I…

And all of a sudden, God doesn’t become who we are dependent on for provision in our life. You see how this works? Where we ascribe to money these divine attributes, we make it god. And God is jealous.

Because we are looking to money for security, for significance. And God says, “No, I want to do that. I want to be your source of satisfaction. I want to be your source of significance. I want to be your source of security.

When I started this message, preparing for it, I wouldn’t have said that money is a false god in my life. It certainly is at war within me, but I wouldn’t have said it sat on the throne. And then I started asking myself these difficult questions and I began to be convicted in other ways.

Question number one: What do you complain the most about? Remember that question? What do you complain the most about? Do you complain about your financial status, the car you drive, the house you live in? That reveals the false god.

What do you sacrifice your time for? Are you mostly giving your time to making money? What do you worry about? Are most of your worries and fears revolving around finances? Gas prices? The retirement fund? The house payments?

What do you dream of? What brings you the most joy? For many people, when they dream of things, it’s things that can be bought.

And what about this question: What controls you? What controls you? I know some people in the church who have told me that they really feel called by God to leave their job in the secular workplace and to be involved in full-time, Christian service in some way. They feel like that’s what God wants them to do.

They haven’t done it because money says it doesn’t make sense. Money says you can’t afford it. So, if God is saying, “This is what you should do,” and money is saying, “You can’t do it,” what you decide to do reveals your god.

I have talked to moms who really feel called by God to quit their jobs, to stay at home with their kids. They feel like this is what God wants them to do. But they have to downsize and they don’t see how the numbers can work. And so, they have God saying, “This is what you should do. This is what I want you to do.” And money is saying, “You can’t do it.” What they decide to do determines who their God is.

And I understand that different situations are not so cut and dried and sometimes it can be more difficult to determine exactly what God wants, but at the end of the day, what is it that controls you?

See, God wants the throne of your heart to Himself. He will not share your loveseat of your heart with money. He just won’t do it. And if you are putting your work or your success or your money ahead of God, then you are either experiencing God’s active wrath or you are experiencing His passive wrath. You are experiencing His passive wrath in that perhaps He has just turned you over to these things and has said, “Fine, if that’s what you want to worship, you go ahead and worship. And one day you will realize it was a waste.” Or you are experiencing God’s active wrath where He is taking some of these things away from you in an effort to turn you back towards Him.

Some very good friends gave me permission to share a story of what happened early on in their marriage. This was more than ten years ago. First year of marriage. And Pam was the primary breadwinner in the family. And she was doing well for herself and she was finding identity in her money, like many of us, worshipping the gods of our fathers: wealth.

And so, she is finding her identity in this. And this is the purpose for life. And she is holding it over her husband’s head, holding it over Kyle’s head. And it’s taking the toll on their marriage. And things are not good at home. And then one day, she is trading some stocks and she buys two thousand shares of an IPO stock. With an IPO stock, you don’t know how much it costs until after you buy it. Came out to about a hundred and eighty thousand dollars worth of stock for her.

This was all of the money they had plus some. By the end of the day, her hundred and eighty thousand dollars worth of stock was worth twenty-five thousand dollars worth of stock.

And so, she had lost everything. The family would have to take out a loan just to pay off the debt and she was devastated. Lost over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars. She calls her husband, Kyle, and tells him what has happened. And here’s what Kyle says. He says, “It’s just money. We still have each other.”

And God began to teach her some things. He began to teach her about what is most important. He began to teach her about what you can truly put your trust in. He began to teach her what true love really is. And if you talk to her today about it, you get the impression that the day she lost a hundred and fifty thousand dollars was one of the best days of her life.

You see, if that wouldn’t have happened, she’s not sure that she would have realized how much her husband loved her and maybe their marriage would have ended in divorce. If that wouldn’t have happened, then perhaps she would have continued to pursue this path of career and money and find her identity in those things instead of being a committed stay-at-home mom with her three beautiful kids.

If that wouldn’t have happened, then maybe she wouldn’t have put her complete dependence in God. Maybe she wouldn’t have put her complete trust in Him.

May you be so blessed that God pries your false god out of your white knuckled hands rather than spend your life sacrificing and giving yourself to what is not real.

You see, the problem with idolatry is that ultimately, we are putting our trust in something other than Jesus. We are looking to something other than Jesus for our salvation. For many of us, it’s money.

Maybe you are lonely, though, and you are looking to a relationship for salvation. Maybe you are empty and you’re looking to possessions for salvation. Or you are depressed, and you are looking to food for salvation. Or you feel rejected and you are looking to pornography for salvation. Maybe you are angry, and you look to alcohol for salvation. Maybe you feel no purpose in life and you look to work for salvation. Maybe you’re worried and anxious and so, you’re looking to money for salvation. And so, you have made these things your savior. You have said, “This is where I am going to look for salvation in my life.”

But in the end, there is nothing there.  And this is what we read in Psalm 106. It reflects back on the Israelites worshipping a golden image while Moses is receiving the Ten Commandments. And here’s what it says. It says, “They,” the people of God, “made a calf at Mount Horeb and they exchanged their glorious God for an image of a bull, which eats grass.”

This is not a good trade. And, yet, this is what we have done. We look at this and we think, How ridiculous that they would trade their glorious God for an image of a golden calf. Well, at least it’s gold.

I mean, some of us have traded our glorious God for a car that can handle the corners really well. Or we have traded our glorious God for a job that He hasn’t even called us to, but it pays pretty good. We have traded our glorious God for a house that has a lot of upgrades. Or we have traded our glorious God for a more impressive portfolio.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against these things. They are not wrong in and of themselves. But when good things become god things, we are guilty of idolatry. And for many of us, these are the things that have become too important in our lives.

And so, I’m wondering if for some of you, your business has become your religion, the Wall Street Journal has become your Bible, you pay closer attention to economic growth than you do your own spiritual growth. These are not good trades.

I was reading a story this last week of Millard Fuller and his wife Linda. Millard tells about becoming a millionaire by the age of twenty-nine. And he says that at age 29, he had bought everything for his wife that she could possibly want, but one day, he came home from work to find a note announcing that she had left him.

He went after her, he catches up to her, and on a Saturday night in a hotel in New York City. And the two of them stay up talking into the wee hours of the morning and she just expresses to him that the things that they have given their lives to, the things that our society says are so satisfying have left her cold. And so, her heart was empty. Her spirit was burned out. And she said she felt dead inside and wanted to live again.

And so, the two of them in that hotel room knelt beside their bed. And Millard and Linda decided to sell everything they had and commit the rest of their lives to serving poor people.

The next day was Sunday. They found the nearest Baptist church and went there to worship and thank God for their new beginning. They shared with the minister their decision. And the minister told them that such a radical decision wasn’t necessary. Millard writes these words. He says, “The minister told us it was not necessary to give up everything. He just didn’t understand, we weren’t giving up money and the things that money could buy. We were giving up, we were giving up.”

And Millard and Linda started an organizing you may be familiar with: Habitat for Humanity. It is tempting in teaching a passage like the one we are studying from Luke 18, to say about Jesus when He speaks to the rich young ruler and says, “Sell everything you have,” it’s tempting to say, “He really didn’t mean it.” He’s just speaking metaphorically.

Jesus meant it. I wonder about this man, did the rich young ruler just become a richer, older ruler? Or did he some – at some point realize what he should truly give his life to?

One of the strangest verses you’ll read in the Bible is in verse 22, 23, it says, “He became very sad because he was a man of great wealth.” It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s strange to read a sentence like that.

He was sad because he wanted both God and money. He did not want to have to choose. And, yet, that was the only invitation Jesus offered. It’s all or nothing. “I am either Lord of all or not at all.” That was His invitation. And so, the man walked away sad.

And the invitation has not changed. It is still the invitation. Will you make God the Lord of your life? Not just parts of it, but of your entire life and let Him have that throne on the seat of your heart? How you walk away today is up to you. But Jesus has patiently waited for that position of glory in your life.