Why Better Things Don't Always Make Things Better, Part 2
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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About this series
Five Lies that Ruin Relationships
Wrong Beliefs Produce Wrong Behavior
Have you ever looked back over a situation or relationship in your life and wondered how it became so messy or difficult? In the series from the book of James, Five Lies that Ruin Relationships, we'll define five of the most common lies that have the potential to ruin relationships with those we love. We'll also uncover the source of quarreling, how our words wound, and how not to make decisions. And together, we'll ask and answer the question: do wrong beliefs produce wrong behavior? We will discover that when we confront the lies we believe, there is power in knowing and applying God's truth to our relationships.More from this series
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.”
But what happens is it becomes normal, doesn’t it? It just becomes normal. And I think there are warnings here for us, as believers.
Now, this could end on a very negative note, but it’s not going to. Because remember, I said that we’re going to have a good time together. What I want to do is, I want to flip this around, and ask and answer the question, “If that’s the wrong way to use money that brings God’s judgment, what is the right way?” What would be the four positive ways that we could leverage this amazing wealth?
One of the things that upsets me about Christians is, they feel really guilty.
We’re all very wealthy. Now, what we do is, we find someone more wealthy, and we think we’re middle class. I have met with people in living rooms who are only worth ten or twelve million dollars, and you just feel like, Boy, I don’t have much. I mean, now, real wealth is… And they’ll talk about someone with about a hundred million.
I have been in rooms with people that have a hundred or two hundred million dollars, and they look at me like, “No, wealthy? No, no. When you have a big capital “B” in your portfolio, like in billions – now, that’s wealthy.”
And it’s just a game that we play. And so, we think, Well, people making over two hundred thousand – now, hoo-hoo, they’re wealthy!
And I have news for you. You are wealthy. I am wealthy. And you know what? That’s not bad. It’s just a stewardship. It’s just, God has made us wealthy. Then what we ought to ask is, Lord, how do You want us to use this wealth, in a very positive and good way?
And so, what I want to do is, I want to flip this around, and 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?
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 are 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.
And if we want to know where your heart really is – what are you passionate about? All we’ve got to 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 and 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, 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 fifty-five dollars a share, and tomorrow is going to get two dollars 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 words 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, one hundred percent of it belongs to God, and it’s not just the part you give.
Am I a wise steward of it? See, it’s not mine. I’m His money manager.
Read Luke 16! When Jesus wanted to teach, He talked about the unrighteous, shrewd servant. And He says, “This guy was really smart, because he understood he was going to lose his job. And since he was going to lose his job, he brought in all the creditors, and he changed all the books.” Why? Do you remember? Jesus said, “This guy is 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. When the Union came, you could have all those Confederate dollars, you just couldn’t spend them.
All the dollars that you have you can’t spend in heaven. So, you take the money that you have, and you realize that 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 ten grand, and it helped this church, and shared the gospel, and I heard from these angels that you were behind it. I wanted to thank you.”
And people will 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.” One hundred percent belongs to God. We’re going to be stewards of it, but there is this amazing balance. This is why people can’t tell us what to do with our money. There is 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 it’s this really nice house, with a swimming pool…for baptisms. It was for – we put it in for baptisms.”
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 am able to enjoy these rich gifts from God. And I remember when I was a young man, I started out at ten percent, and then, when I got older it was twenty percent. And as God has blessed my business…”
I have a personal friend who, after his twenty-first birthday, he started giving one more percent every year to the Lord – a minimum of that. He has been married fifty-five years now. You do the math. But something happened. God found a river. So he probably gives seventy-five, eighty-five 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 is 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. It takes huge maturity to be wealthy. Huge maturity.
But I think we have to balance the sacrificial with – what does the passage say? “…who gives us all things richly” – to feel guilty about? Doesn’t it say, “…who gives us all things richly to enjoy”? Enjoy.
My priorities are 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 disbursed 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, this year we give a little more. And I’m going to test God.
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 – “but comes 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.
You work, work, work all these hours, right? You get a paycheck. That paycheck represents who you are, 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 only going to go around once, and whatever I can accumulate…
The lie is, “x” amount of dollars, and “x” amount of accounts, and “x” amount of things don’t make me powerful. They don’t make me significant. And they don’t make me secure. God says, “You know something? Money can’t deliver. That’s the lie. I’m your Source.” Jesus said, “It is 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, significant, 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 to have all kinds 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 would be more happy – true or false? It’s true. Wouldn’t it be just an amazing application, if we just all – you think, just, you know 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 start giving it away, incrementally, and see what God will do. And if He gives you more, then give a little bit more, and wouldn’t it be an amazing thing?
Here’s what I’ll tell you will happen in your heart: The happiness that you think the clothes, the car, the watch, all the advertisements that tell you what makes you a somebody – you start giving your money, your time, your heart, your energy, you’ll just be about the happiest person. It’ll just get sickening.
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 kinds of people are the kinds 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, pressed 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.