Broadcast

Why Better Things Don’t Always Make Things Better

From the series Five Lies that Ruin Relationships

Money. Is it wrong to have lots of money? Or perhaps put another way, is it better or more spiritual to be poor? How does God really feel about money, wealth, and possessions? Chip explores what the Bible has to say about financial success, spending, and saving.

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Message Transcript

It’s a very, very interesting passage. Commentators struggle with this passage because it starts so strong. To understand it, you need to know the intended audience. And what I want you to know, verse 1 is intended for unbelieving rich who were abusing believers at the time. This is the first book of the New Testament, as I’ve shared before, and so the early Church – these people had been scattered. James opens up, “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad.”

And many have lost their families, lost their business, and they find themselves in dire financial straits. Many of them, because they have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, have been cut out of wills, cut out of inheritances, and they’re in a very difficult time, disowned by their families. And this scathing rebuke, in verse 1, is to rich, powerful people that are abusing God’s children.

Then, in verses 2 to 4 in this historical background, we’re going to get some reasons why God is so adamant about this abuse.  Open your Bible, and let me just read an overview of the first six verses, and then let’s dig in together. It opens up and says, “Now listen, you rich people” – and this is strong – “weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” Verse 1, written to unbelievers abusing God’s children: “Judgment is coming for what you have done.”

He goes on to say, “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.” Verse 3, “Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you fail to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, those who are not even opposing you.”

And so, the intended audience is some rich unbelievers, but out of it, I think, are some principles for all of us. Scathing rebuke, followed by the four reasons for the rebuke.

Now, here’s what I want you to get, before we jump into this very strong passage: The truth is, God is not opposed to wealth. Many of the greatest believers in the Bible time were wealthy. Solomon, David, Job, Abraham. New Testament: Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas – very, very wealthy believers. He’s not against wealth, but God is opposed to the misuse and the abuse of wealth.

For your own study, if there’s one section of Scripture, I think, that really helps you understand the balance of wealth, and enjoying it as a good gift from God, and being on guard against what wealth can do, I would encourage you, 1 Timothy chapter 6, verse 6 through the end of the chapter – I would make that a personal study. I would get my arms around 1 Timothy 6, about verse 6 through the end, and really have a grasp of: what does God say about wealth?

However, God is not against wealth, but the warning is, the misuse of wealth brings God’s judgment.

And so let’s open up the text together. Notice what it says in verse 1 of James chapter 5. “Now listen” – it’s strong. Literally, it’s, “Stop! Wait a minute. You rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you.” Underline the words rich people – because we need to know who they are – and then circle the words weep and wail.

Who are these rich people? Again, Swindoll makes a great observation. He says, “There are four kinds of people in the Bible with regard to wealth. There are people who are poor without – on the outside – and they’re poor within.” In other words, the point is, they don’t have any economic wealth, but they don’t have any spiritual wealth either.

He said, “There are people who are rich without, they have strong economic, physical wealth, but they are poor within. They don’t have a relationship with God.”

He says, “Third, there are people who are poor without” – in other words, they are poor financially – “but they are rich spiritually.”

And then, his final observation, “There are people who are rich without” – very, very wealthy – “but they’re poor within” – totally estranged from God. And that is who this is addressed to.

And he says to them, “Weep.” Literally, it’s a prophetic usage. This same word is used in the Old Testament of a response for evil men and women, of how they should respond, knowing that divine judgment is coming down. This is really strong. And then, he says to them not only weep, but wail. Loud weeping.

So, that’s the warning. He says, “The misuse of wealth that hurts and abuses other people will bring the judgment of God.”

And then, he’s going to give the reason. There are four warnings that he gives, out of verses 2 through 6.

And these warnings are for wealthy people who are unbelievers, who are abusing God’s people, but here’s the thing. “All Scripture is profitable” – right? – “for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.” And the fact of the matter is, these are four warnings, and he’s going to give specific reasons to these unbelieving people about the abuses there, but those really turn into very clear warnings to you, and me, because I don’t think we’re immune to the misuse, or the mishandling, of money. And so, he’s going to give us four clear warnings about what not to do, or how not to handle your money.

The first one has to do with how much you’ve accumulated. He’s going to talk, in verse 2, and he’s going to say, “Here’s the warning: Don’t hoard it. Don’t hoard it.”

And you say, “Where do I get that?” Read verse 2. Look at it. It says, “Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver have corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you” – and, boy, this is graphic – “and will eat your flesh like fire.” Whoo. That is graphic. “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”

To understand this passage, put a circle around the word rotted, put a circle around the word clothes, and put a circle around the word corroded, because this is all about the accumulation of wealth. But they didn’t use 401(k)s, and didn’t have a lot of banks, the way we think of banks.

And the way they would accumulate wealth is, number one, through food. In other words, your harvest – you get more and more and more grain, so you would store it, and he says, “Guess what? It’s rotted.”

Another way was clothes. Silks, or linens, or fine fabrics – you would stack them up, and the more you owned, that would be like your 401(k), or your retirement. And he says, “The moths have gone in and eaten it.” And the other was precious metals. And he says, “They’re corroded.”

And the word picture is this extreme judgment. Because they were hoarding, because they were so selfish, while there were so many people that had needs, he says, “God is going to judge you. Look at all the needs that there are, and look how you have hoarded it.” And he says, “Those things that you thought would give power, and security – the grain is being eaten up and ruined. Those things that you thought that you could leverage, or buy, and sell, and do something with,” he says, “the moths are going to take care of it. And the precious metals are being corroded before your very eyes. Why? Because you have hoarded it. You have taken, and taken, and taken, and taken, and taken, to give you personal power, and a sense of authority, and prestige, and security – you thought – all the while, while all these people had needs.” And God says, “Don’t do it.”

And, you know what? We are not immune to that. We’re the most prosperous country in the world.

I had a lady in our church, in California, that we were talking about this, and she said, “You know something? It is amazing how we think things, or possessions, will really come through for us.” And her husband owns a special kind of windsurfing company, and her kids are grown, so she decided she would go work part-time, in a department store, and get out and meet some people.

And so, she was out one day, and a lady came in, and she began to show her different things. And she just went in, and she just started taking all kinds of things, and racks and racks and racks and racks, and she came out with – she goes, “It was thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes.”

And she goes, “Oh, did your house burn down, or something terrible happen? This is a lot of clothes for one day.” She goes, “No. In fact, I have four walk-in closets at home.” She said, “What?” “Yeah, four.” And she said, “Well, do you need these?” She said the lady looked at her like, “Need these? That never entered my mind.”

It was just a hoarding. There was something that made her feel powerful, and significant, to go in and buy these clothes, and have anything she wanted, rack after rack after rack after rack. And that’s an extreme case.

But, sometimes, Saturday mornings, I’ll get up early, and I like to drive into the office, because no one’s there, and I get a lot more done, and it’s quiet. And you have all these – I’m sure your town’s the same – these garage sales. Do you ever see how many garage sales there are? Saturday morning is a big morning to have that. Get there early, by the way. If you don’t get there early, the good stuff is gone.

And I thought to myself – when I was a kid, no one had garage sales. We have so much stuff. We have so much stuff. We live in a garage sale world, where we all have so much stuff that we have to put it out on our lawn so that other people can come and buy our stuff. And we live in a garage-sale mentality world. Could it be that even Christians are guilty of hoarding in our day?

I told you the story of that security blanket that different people have, at different times, and all of us have a line. All of us have a secret line that we think – and some with good reason, we’ll talk about – I need “x” amount of money for this situation. And then, I feel secure if I have “x” amount of money. And then, after I have that, and then I also have my retirement working, and I have…then I’m willing and ready to be generous with others.

The more and more and more you get does not produce more and more generosity. The more and more and more you get, what it produces is, your safety net gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And it’s interesting, you would think that the percentage of your giving would increase and increase and increase and increase the more you get. But, actually, what begins to happen is, people realize they have more and more and more to lose. Warning number one, don’t hoard it.

Warning number two has to do with how we get the money that we have. And he says, “Don’t steal it. Don’t steal it.”

Notice what he says in verse 3, “Look, the wages you have failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” It’s the Lord Sabaōth, the One who is the host of armies, the All-Powerful, the Leader, the One who repays, the God who will bring about justice.

And you need to know the historical context is: they were getting income dishonestly. The way it worked in that day is, remember the parables that Jesus would tell, where you would come out into the field, and, at the end of the day, you got paid? That’s how people got paid.

And what these people would do is, they would go, and they would do their day’s work, and then the guy who’s rich and powerful would say, “Eh, I’m not going to pay you today.” It’s exactly what it says, “You withhold the wages from your workmen.”

But unlike us, they didn’t get their paycheck every two weeks, or once a month, and write out their bills. They didn’t go home and have a closet full of food. They made the money that day for that day’s food.

In fact, later on you’ll learn, the definition of a “rich person,” in New Testament times, is, you had a second change of clothes, and you already knew for the day, or the next day, after today, you already had the food stored. That’s considered rich. See, you have excess.

Most people lived hand to mouth. Most of the world lives in such a way where, “What am I going to eat today? I’m going to work today; I get this money. When I get this money, I’m going to buy the food. I’m going to buy the food, and I’m going to take care of my family. Now they have enough for tonight, and morning breakfast, and lunch, and then I’m going to go to work, and I get my…”

And what they did is, they wouldn’t pay them. So, their families couldn’t eat. And that’s why, notice, “The cries of the harvesters ...”

What would you do if you were a man, and you worked all day, and you needed “x” amount, and there’s no food at home, and you know the day is gone, and then you come home, and the big, heavy guy – and what are you going to do? You’re a little, poor guy, and he’s a rich, powerful guy. “I’m not paying you today.” You go home, and you cry.

“The cries of the harvesters are being heard by the Almighty, the Lord Sabaōth.” And He’s telling these people, I’ll tell you what, I am going to come, and I am going to bring about justice. Because what are they doing? They’re stealing it.

I don’t know about you, but some of the worst testimonies I’ve ever seen, in all my life, have to do with people not paying their debts, Christians not paying their debts. This is very, very disturbing, but do you know, in America, at least, one of the worst credit risks are pastors? Now, I’m hoping it’s of all those non-Bible-believing churches, but I don’t think that’s where it’s at.

Ask financial people. Pastors are one of the worst credit risks. And if they don’t have their act together, with regard to money, what in the world is happening in the churches?

How many of you have done business with a Christian – fish on the card, fish on the car – and have had a terrible experience? Right? It’s almost like you see the fish on the card, you’re thinking, I’m not – ah, ooh, ooh, baby. I’m just looking for someone honest, and you sign the contract, because – I’m just not sure – wonder why he put that there?

How many of you have a relative, who is a believer, who owes you money? And because you’re both Christians…how many of you, in a church situation – and, boy, this happened in our church a number of times. You trust one another.

Christians, by the way, are the easiest people to con on the face of the earth. Ponzi schemes, get-rich-quick schemes – you are the easiest. You know what? You’re trusting! And if a person says “Jesus” a couple of times, “praise the Lord” a couple of times, quotes a couple of verses, and then says, “Hey, could you help me out? I really need this, and I’ve got this great opportunity…” It is amazing, in churches, how people will lend money, or give money, to other people, only to discover some of the worst conflicts you ever have is with a fellow believer who doesn’t pay you back.

I have been in church discipline situations where people have come in and said, “I don’t get it. We gave them x-thousands of dollars, they say they can’t pay us. They went to Hawaii! We can’t go to Hawaii. They owe us ten thousand dollars! How can they go to Hawaii? What are you pastors going to do about this?” And this person is involved in ministry in the church!”

And you bring those people together, and you sit them down, and you open the Bible, and you shoot it really straight, and you work through some very difficult issues, and you line out payment plans, and…so, it happens, even in the church.

He says, “The wrong uses of wealth – ” warning number one – don’t hoard it. Warning number two – don’t steal it. He goes on. Warning number three – this is about how we spend the money that we have. And here, he says, “Don’t waste it.” Don’t waste it.

Listen to the Scripture. “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” Put a circle around that word luxury. You guys are getting good at this Bible study, aren’t you? And put another circle around the word self-indulgence.

The root word of the word luxury, here – it means “to break down; to make soft.” It has the idea of an excess in living. It’s a picture of people who have so much that there is never any need. There’s such opulence that they’re – it’s not just the physical things, but they have very weak moral fiber. You find that some of the downfalls of great civilizations, there is such luxury, the people never have to make hard decisions; they never have to say “no” to themselves. There’s no discipline. And so, what you find is, the softness not only occurs in all the finances, and the food, and the luxury, and this and that, but there’s no moral fiber; there’s no strength.

And so, he says to them, “You have lived in this luxury.” And if you missed the point, it’s self-indulgence. It’s the idea of excess, waste. It connotes lewd, immoral self-gratification. This is a picture of the Neros of the world. This is the idea of people who have so much, and eat so much, that they just fling it here, and fling it there. They stick their finger down their throat to throw up so they can eat some more.

This is a picture of the rich and the famous. This is the little stories that we get, where so-and-so met so-and-so, and they were a little bored one night, so they flew to Paris for lunch the next day. It was great. They had a hundred of their friends come with them. It’s this sense of, you’ve got it; flaunt it. You’ve got it; use it.

And God speaks to these people, and He says, “You’ve lived in luxury and self-indulgence.” And then, this phrase, “You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” Literally, “You have fattened your heart” – that’s the literal text. “You have fattened your heart.”

And it’s a word picture of what they would do when they would have a pig that would be grain-fed. They would put a pig in a stall, and they would fatten it, and grain-feed it to make it fat.

And it’s a picture of God saying, “You think you’ve been living in the lap of luxury? I’ll tell you what you have done. You are like a pig that’s been preparing yourself that I am going to slaughter, because all you’ve done is focused on you. You’ve lived in such wanton opulence and waste.” It’s pretty strong stuff, isn’t it?

What’s the application for us, as believers? For me, the application is, just because you can afford it, doesn’t mean you should buy it. Just because you can afford it, does not mean you should buy it.

I think what’s developed in our country, and developed, even, in the Church, is what I call “the buffet mentality.” You know what “the buffet mentality” is? You paid your eight bucks, or your nine-fifty, or your twelve-fifty, or if it’s one of those Sunday brunches, twenty-two bucks, right? And there’s a table here, and they have shrimp, and roast beef, and chicken, and they’ve got seven kinds of meat, and over here they’ve got forty-nine kinds of dessert. And then, you can have eggs over here; you can have waffles over here. There’s fresh fruit over here, and there’s more food than forty-nine people could eat in forty-nine days, ever.

But you’ve paid your twenty-two bucks, or your nine-fifty, and what do you have to do? You have to make sure you get your nine-fifty’s worth!

So, you put stuff that doesn’t even go together – a piece of ham, and a shrimp, and an egg. You know? But you like all three, and it’s a buffet. And you go and you eat that, and you watch kids there, and they eat about half the plate, and the servers come by, and they take half the plates off with food.

And people line up for round two, and round three, and round four, and they ought to give you Pepto-Bismol and Alka-Seltzer to go, but they don’t. And you get your twenty-two dollars’ worth, and you stuff your face, and you feel uncomfortable.

But it’s not just how we eat. Why? Why do we do that at a buffet? Because there is so much, and you can have – what’s the whole point of a buffet? Eat all you want, right?

And if it’s there to eat, whether you’re still hungry, whether you need it. Sometimes, I know the shrimp costs a lot. If I’m going to really get my money’s worth – nine o’clock in the morning – okay, I’ll go for the shrimp.

And because it’s there, there’s a compulsion in human nature to do something with it. And I think what’s happened is, the buffet mentality has gotten to where, if we have money, we just – we’re deluded into thinking it’s our money. It’s God’s money.

What do you have that you don’t possess? What do you have that you haven’t received? One hundred percent of all that you have, all that I have, it’s God’s.

You say, “Well, I worked for it.” Okay, who gave you the talent? Who gave you the job? Who gave you the oxygen? He’s the Lord of all the earth. “Silver and gold is Mine” – Deuteronomy 8. Everything belongs to Him.

And so, what He’s saying to these people is, “Don’t waste it! Don’t waste it. Don’t hoard it. Don’t steal it. Don’t waste it.”

And then, finally, the warning here is, don’t abuse it. He talks about, “How do you use your money to influence other people?” He says, “Don’t use your money to abuse the influence that it can have.”

Notice, he says in verse 4, “You have condemned and murdered innocent men who were not opposing you.” The owners didn’t pay their wages. Well, guess what happens? Not only does the guy go home and cries out to God, and says, “God, I worked all day; I didn’t get any money. I can’t feed my family.” Well, he has other – he’s got bills to pay, right? He’s got a landlord to pay.

So, the landlord comes to the guy and says, “Hey, where’s my money?” He goes, “Well, the guy didn’t pay me.” He said, “That’s a personal problem.”

And you know how they got people to pay their debts back in that day? They put them in prison, which is really smart. He’s really making a lot of money in prison to pay off that debt. But that’s how it worked.

Remember the parable of Jesus, and the man who came and wouldn’t pay the debt? And he said, “Put that man in prison!” He begged, begged, begged for mercy, and then he did the same thing with someone else. That was how it worked in the day.

So, literally, what he’s saying here is that you have abused it; you’ve condemned and murdered men. If you end up in prison, in order to pay your debt, and you can never pay your debt, what do you end up doing? You die. You die.

And this is the harsh word from the Spirit of God, who sees this injustice to these unbelievers who are hoarding, and stealing, and abusing these people, and He says, “They weren’t even opposing you.” Literally, that phrase is, “They were powerless before you. They weren’t even in the game. They couldn’t do anything against you.”

And, now, you see people who use money for bribes, to pay off judges, political appointments, to get contracts. See, that’s how you abuse money. Any time you use money to pervert justice, and control others, instead of love and serve others in a way that will bring glory to God, it’s an abuse.

And this passage that we’ve read is happening all around the world, especially in Third World countries. And it’s happening, probably, more here than we would like to believe.
Let me give you four commands right out of Scripture on the right uses of wealth.  And I want to take the model – because he’s gone negative, negative, negative, negative.  I want to go positive, positive, positive, positive so when we walk out of here, instead of feeling lonely and bad and guilty about our wealth, we can say, “Hey, here’s a practical, systematic way that we can use the God given wealth for good.”

So with that, are you ready to roll?  Good.  Command number one is save it faithfully.  Although hoarding is condemned, God does say that wisdom demands that we plan for the future with our excess wealth.  Notice what it says in Proverbs 21:20.  “The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.”  Biblical savings is about stewardship, not about security.  Do you see the difference?

As a believer, I need to save for emergencies, for crises, for future needs, to help others, to make better use of my money.  And when I save, I make better decisions.  There is a reason why those commercials say, “You can buy this today and no payments for 18 months.”  It’s because you start buying stuff and having stuff you can’t really afford, but it doesn’t hit you for 18 months.

And usually there’s a little thing in the fine print where you’re going to end up figuring – you’ll pay the interest on that some way, somehow.  They’re going to get you this way, this way or that way.  But when you save, it’s in a novel thing.  What if you made car payments to yourself, so the next car you bought you walked in and said, “How much does it cost?  Here it is.”  And you paid no interest.

What if you saved so that when your washing machine breaks down, you walk in and say, “I need a new washing machine,” and you pay ‘em cash.  And by the way, when you pay cash and when you save and you have that taken care of, what if there’s a big need?  Or what if there would be – imagine like a hurricane would hit.  And millions of people would be displaced.  What if you had money on the side that you could just reach into and say, “You know something?  This is for an emergency.  I thought it was for my emergency.  Lord, I think you must want it for their emergency.”

And you could give it, not with, “Oh I wish I could do something.”  See, God says it’s important and wise.  Proverbs says, “Observe the ant.”  Right?  What does he do?  They work together.  And they do things at different times of the year so that when the winter comes they have prepared.  So I think it’s very important to save.

Savings as a steward requires a couple things.  Now this all sounds elementary, but I’ve known some really, really bright people that don’t quite get this.  In order to save, follow very carefully, you have to spend less each month than you make.  I’ll go over that again slowly, okay?  Get that pen out, okay.  In order to save money, you have to spend less than you make.  So if you make $2000.00 a month or $5000.00 a month or $10,000.00 a month, you have to live on less than that so you can take a portion of it and save it.

And I’m not being as facetious as you think I am.  Because one of the things I did to get through seminary is I did some selling of investments and some financial planning.  And what I found is if the people made $50,000.00 a year – that was the window – they spent about $55,000.00.  If they made $100,000.00 a year, they spent about $110,000.00 a year.  If they made $250,000.00 a year, they spent about $300,000.00 a year.

And it was amazing.  Whatever window that people make, their expenses seem to always exceed what they make.  It’s an amazing thing, but you would have to begin to save.  It will be just a freeing, freeing thing to have money set aside for emergency or future purchases or something someone else needs.

The second positive way to use your wealth is make it honestly.  This is how we’re supposed to gain wealth.  Notice what it says – “Work brings profit.  Talk brings poverty.”  We’re to work hard instead of steal it.  Notice work hard instead of the get rich quick schemes.  Proverbs 13:11 – it’s not in your notes but you might want to jot that down – it says wealth from gambling or the idea of getting rich quickly disappears.  But wealth from hard work grows.

Or the classic New Testament passage is Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who steals,” literally it’s happening in the church – the grammar here is literally “stop stealing.”  “Let him who steals steal no longer, but rather,” what?  “Let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”   Work hard, but wisely.

I love Proverbs 23:4.  It says, “Don’t wear yourself out to get rich.  Have the wisdom to show restraint.”  Work hard.  That’s how you gain it.  I know when you can’t sleep and there’s times I can’t sleep.  It’s 1:42 a.m.  You even read the Bible a little bit, still can’t sleep.  It’s now 3:33 a.m.  You’re now thinking what a terrible day it’s going to be and maybe I could watch some mindless thing on TV.  It’ll help me sleep.

And so you turn on the TV.  The quality program between about 2:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. will blow your mind.  And what it is?  “With no money down, I’ll show you how to buy real estate like you never dreamed,” right?  Or “For seven payments of $19.99, this book has the magic formula where you can be a millionaire.”  And then they have these guys with all these testimonies – and I love the one guy, he’s in the boat with all the babes in the bikinis in back going, “Hey, man.  I’ll tell you what I did.  I went to this course.”

What is it?  It’s a lie.  It’s just a lie.  There are no quick fixes.  God says there’s nothing wrong with wealth.  In fact, God says he gives wealth to the Godly and he adds no sorrow to it.  He says, “Try this.  Just work for it.”  Quit trying to get – I don’t know how many believers, even Christian organizations about ten, twelve years ago – a Ponzi scheme soaked tens of millions of dollars promising.  If it sounds too good to be true, just take it.  It’s too good to be true.

People who promised 20 percent return and this return and that return, something smells.  Don’t go there.  There is no free lunch.  Work hard.  Save it.  Make it honestly.  And before I get to the next one, I want to ask you a question.  Because this always lingers in the back of people’s minds – people ask me, “So, how much money can a Godly person make?”  And isn’t that kind of in the back of your mind?

I mean how much money – I mean, I’m Godly.  You really love God.  It’s really sincere.  How much money can a Godly person make?  I have an answer.  Now this is Chip Ingram.  We’re in James before, you’re going to get Chip Ingram so you can say, “I like this, I don’t like this.  Oh wait.”  My answer – as much as you want.  Of course, there’s an end to it.  You ready?  That’s not the whole answer.

As much as you want, as long it doesn’t hurt your health, your family, others.  And then here’s the key test.  As long as your spiritual growth is outpacing your financial growth.  That’s the test.  ‘Cause money will always reveal your heart.  You can make as much money as you want, as long as your spiritual growth is outpacing your financial growth.

I think God is looking for people that he can trust great amounts of wealth to.  And they’re few and far in between.  People who – as one guy says, can’t remember who it was.  God is looking for people that will be rivers instead of reservoirs.  People that he can put it in here and it loosely will go through and make it to lots of other people and do lots of good instead of going to something where it all gets accumulated.  Wealth is not a bad thing.  Wealth can be a great thing.  But I would suggest it’s a dangerous thing.  I don’t think we take that seriously.

Mark 4 when Jesus talks about the four seeds that go into the ground – you remember seed number one Satan takes away.  Seed number two, persecution.  Do you remember what seed number three is?  The worries of the world – the thorns, the deceitfulness of riches choke out the Word of God.  It is so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God because rich people – that’s us – don’t recognize our desperate dependency.

Poor people are rich in faith because they pray and expect and ask because they desperately need God.  When you have enough wealth to take care of yourself, you have to willfully be dependent.  And the thing about wealth is deceitful.  And the definition of deceitful is when it is affecting you, the person who doesn’t know it is you.  Right?

I mean when you’re deceived, it’s like you think things are going right.  I’m really walking with the Lord.  Everything is fine.  And I feel good.  And when I sing those songs, I have happy feelings in my heart and I’m actually reading in my Bible and I’m serving at my church.  Let me tell you.  God is going to say, “Let me see your day timer, your PDA, and let me see your financial statement and I’ll tell you how you’re doing with me.”

Because according to Jesus, if you want to see a person’s heart – his spiritual x-ray machine, the spiritual MRI is your financial statement.  Because according to Jesus, here’s your heart and there’s a chain.  And the chain is connected to your wallet.  And wherever your wallet is, that’s where your heart follows.  And if we want to know where your heart really is, what are you passionate about?  All we gotta do is look at where your money goes.

If it’s to golf clubs, vacations, remodeling, this, this, this, this – you can love God, sing hymns, read your Bible, serve in your church.  But your heart is in those things.  If your money is toward Kingdom purposes – being generous to people after taking care of your responsibilities, then your heart is about an eternal perspective and loving God.  It is that simple.  And so you can have as much money as you want.  But just make sure that your spiritual growth outpaces your financial growth.

Notice number three.  Spend it wisely.  Save it, work for it, spend it wisely.  Notice what it says in 1 Timothy 6:17-18.  “Command those who are rich in this present world,” that’s us, “not to be arrogant or put their hope in wealth.”  Why?  See it’s – God’s not down on us, why?  Which is so uncertain – God doesn’t want you to put your hopes in something that today is getting $55.00 a share and tomorrow is gonna get $2.00 a share and bang, you’re gone.

He says don’t have them do that which is so uncertain but to put their hope in God who does what?  Richly provides us – circle the word – with everything.  Circle that phrase.  Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Will you circle that word too?  God provides us with everything.  Then command them to what?  To do good.  To be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

The reminder is 100 percent of it belongs to God and it’s not just the part you give.  People I know, people say, “I’m going to tithe.”  And here’s God’s part – there’s the ten percent.  If you’re a tither, here’s just a little eye opening moment – the ten percent is his and it belongs to him.  And the 90 percent is his and belongs to him.  And I will be evaluated for the ten percent or the twelve percent or the twenty percent or whatever God leads me to.

And I will also be evaluated what do I do with the 90 percent?  Am I a wise steward of it?  See, it’s not mine.  I’m his money manager.  I mean, read Luke 16.  When Jesus wanted to teach, he talked about the unrighteous, shrewd servant.  And he said this guy was really smart because he understood he was going to lose his job and so he was going to lose his job, he brought in all the creditors and he changed all the books.  Why?

Do you remember he said – Jesus said, “This guy’s shrewd.  He took a bad example and made a good moral principle – a spiritual principle.”  This guy understood that his present situation was going to dry up, so he used his present position, platform and money to create an avenue so that when that dried up he would have friends who would receive him.  And Jesus says, “The children of the darkness are more shrewd than the children of the light.”  He says, “What smart Christians do, what smart Christians realize is this money, this world is going to dry up.”

It’s like confederate money.  I mean, when the union came you can have all these confederate dollars, you just couldn’t spend ‘em.  All the dollars that you have you can’t spend in Heaven.  So you take the money that you have and you realize it’s going to be a short time and you take the money and you leverage it into the future so that – what did Jesus say?  – you’ll be welcomed into eternal dwellings by people who say, “Man, I was one of those hurricane victims.  Thank you so much.  You gave $10,000.00 and it helped this church and shared the Gospel.  And I heard from these angels that you were behind it and I wanted to thank you.”

And people line up in Heaven and talk to you about how you transformed their life.  And someone from Kenya comes up.  And someone from Australia comes up.  And, “Man, thank you so much because you gave to that mission and this is – and I’m here because of –” that’s the point.  And so – but notice the balance here.  He says not only is it about good deeds and giving richly, command them to do good.  A hundred percent belongs to God.  We’re going to be stewards of it.

But there’s this amazing balance.  This is why people can’t tell us what to do with our money.  There’s this amazing balance.  Doesn’t it say who gives us all things richly to enjoy?  I think there should be tension in every believer’s heart when it comes to money.  And the tension ought to be how can I be radically sacrificial and at the same time radically and deeply enjoy without guilt the good gifts of God?

When I talk to most Christians who have a nice car – “Well, I got it on sale.  And it’s because I help out at the church with funerals.”  Or, “We have this swimming pool.  Yeah, I know this is a really nice house with a swimming pool – for baptisms.  We’ve been putting it in for baptisms.”

I know.  How about – what would be like this?  How about, “The good hand of my God has been upon me and He’s lavished His grace upon me.  I can’t give it away fast enough.  I have a beautiful home.  I have a nice car.  I’m able to enjoy these rich gifts from a God.  And I remember when I was a young man, I started out at ten percent.  And then as when I got older it was twenty percent.  And as God has blessed my business –” I have a personal friend that after his 21st birthday he started giving one more percent every year to the Lord.

A minimum of that.  He’s been married 55 years now.  You do the math.  But guess – something happened.  God found a river.  So he probably gives 75, 85 percent of his income.  But he owns real estate all over Michigan, Florida, everywhere.  See, when God finds someone like that, he just delights.  God is not uptight with people being wealthy.  God’s uptight with people thinking wealth makes you significant, will bring security, will give you power, makes you a someone.  And when they waste it and abuse it and don’t use it the way he wants them to.

I think God wants probably more people to be wealthy if he could entrust it where it wouldn’t literally choke out the spiritual life in their heart.  Takes huge maturity to be wealthy – huge maturity.  But I think we have to balance the sacrificial with what’s the passage say?  Who gives us all thing richly to feel guilty about?  Doesn’t it say, “Who gives us all thing richly to enjoy.”  Enjoy.

My priority is in line.  I’ve prayed.  My bills are paid.  I have saved for an emergency fund.  I’m putting away X amount of dollars for my retirement.  And I’ve done the math and I’m not going to have a big – the goal is when I retire, I’ll have for this many years and then I’ve got it all planned out so that that money will be dispersed to good places, to good people that does a lot of good and won’t ruin my kids.

And by the way, I’m taking steps of increasing faith.  I proportionally give and this year we’re going to give a little more.  And this year we give a little more.  And this year we give a little more.

And I’m going to test God.  And by the way, I’m taking steps of increasing faith.  I proportionally give and this year we’re going to give a little more.  And this year we give a little more.  And this year we give a little more.  And I just want it – and as you do that, here’s what happens.  He just keeps doing wild stuff like giving you more.

And so he says, “Save it.”  He says, “Earn it with hard work.”  He says, “Spend it wisely.”  And then finally, we’ve touched on – he says, “Give it.  Give it generously.”  Proverbs 11 says, “One man gives freely.  He’s generous, yet gains even more.  Another withholds unduly,” or literally what is justly due, “Becomes to poverty.”

I love this – verse 25 of Proverbs 11.  “A generous man will prosper.  And he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”  The Bible is clear on money.  And the Bible is clear on giving.  And you know why?  Is because option A, Jesus is the Lord of my life.  Option B, mammon – or materialism – and all that it represents is the Lord of my life.  And I can’t have two masters.  It’s either this one or that one.  There’s no middle ground.

And the antidote, according to Jesus – Jesus talked more about money than Heaven and Hell combined.  And the antidote to greed, according to Jesus, is to be generous.  The only way it won’t stick to you is if you give it away.  And so he says, “Be generous.  It’s the antidote to greed.  It’s the only way to live under the Lordship of Christ.”

I mean, you work, work, work all these hours, right?  You get a paycheck.  That paycheck represents who you are and what you’ve done.  Is who you are and what you’ve done under the Lordship of Christ?  It all belongs to you.  So I take the first portion off the top and I say, “This is a reminder.  It’s all yours.”  And I give and then I do all the things I’m supposed to do, and then I look for opportunities to say, “Okay, now I would like to give more because I love you.”

Not duty.  Not guilt.  Lord, I love you.  You’ve given me everything.  I want to help people.  I want to care.  I’m just – I’m only going to go around once, and whatever I can accumulate – the lie is X amount of dollars and X amount of counts and X amount of things don’t make me powerful.  They don’t make me significant, and they don’t make me secure.

If you lived in the Silicon Valley between 2001 and then when 2002 hit, man I’ll tell you what.  It’s an amazing thing to watch multi-multi-millionaires go “ssshew!” There’s a guy in our church and his job was repo.  And he would go at night and take the BMWs and the Mercedes and the Lexuses.  And he said, “Man, I’ll tell you – these people made all this money in the Silicon Valley.  And I mean, we were on a ride – all those dot coms that never needed to really make any money and everyone’s going public.”

I mean, like secretaries – everyone’s millionaires.  And he said people just spent it like there was no tomorrow.  And he said, “I have to go in the middle of the night and I hook up all these cars and I repo them.”  And he said, “What I find is there’s the car,” and he said, “I can’t tell you how many of these mansions the people just left.”  Forget the payments, they just got in their car and they left.

Why?  It’s because God says, “You know something?  Money can’t deliver.  That’s the lie.  I’m your source.”  Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”  Giving is God’s divine vehicle to protect my heart.  It’s his divine means to crush greed and the thorns that will choke out the spiritual life.  And it is his means for every believer to support his church to accomplish his mission in the world.

And he says, “You get to be in on an eternal investment as you learn to give and to give generously.”  Jesus said, “Blessed.”  The word means happy, fulfilled, significance, security, joyful comes more in giving than in accumulating or receiving.  Now I’d like to wrap it up with a question.  And the question would be this one.  The first one was If I had more money, I’d be more happy.  And pragmatically our lifestyles say true.

But the Bible says it’s false.  In fact, pragmatically if you do research – have you read any of those books about following the lives of people who won the lotto?  Oh, my.  It’s like one thing you don’t want – don’t win the lotto, unless you want a divorce and have all kind of relational problems and struggle probably for the rest of your life.  That was the first question.

Here’s the last question.  If I gave away more money, I’d be more happy.  True or false?  It’s true.  Wouldn’t it be just an amazing application if we just all – you think just the few hundred people in here.  What if we all said, “Let’s just start giving away more money.  Let’s just start giving away more.  Let’s just love people.  Let’s get radical.”

Just kind of start giving it away and kind of incrementally and see what God will do.  And if he gives you more, than give a little bit more.  Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing?  Here’s what I tell you will happen in your heart – the happiness that you think the clothes, the car, the watch, all the advertisement will tell you that makes you a somebody.  You start giving – your money, your time, your heart, your energy.  You would just be about the happiest person.  It’ll just get sickening.  I mean, I’m serious.

The give and it will be given unto you isn’t just about dollars.  It’s a lifestyle of generosity.  It’s a lifestyle of walking into a room, walking into a situation, and asking the question, “What could I give?” instead of “What do I need?”  And those kind of people are the kind of people that I line up to try and get time with just to be around.  Don’t you?

And you know what?  Most of us, if you want a friend, give friendship.  You want more time?  Give time away.  There’s an axiomatic principle of the Kingdom – whatever you really need, generously give it to others and it will come back good measure.  Press down, shaken together, running over, back into your lap.

The empirical evidence here is very, very clear that more things and better things don’t make us happy.  And that money always reveals our heart.  And then here’s the summary.  Until you get your financial house in order, your relational life will always be in chaos.  Until you get your financial house in order, your relational life will always be in chaos.  And so ask yourself, “Am I saving faithfully?  Am I earning honestly?  Am I spending wisely?  And am I giving generously?”

And if so, high five the Lord, thank him for what he’s taught you.  And if not, just choose one of those and say, “Lord, I’d like to obey you in this.”  And he will give you grace like never before.