Matthew 22:15-22; I Timothy 6:6-10,17-19; Deuteronomy 8:12-18
Today I am going to talk to you about money (pause). I just want that to sink in for a minute. I know that as soon as I mentioned the word money, you were going to experience some kind of emotional, interior response.
But hey, it’s my job to talk about the things that Jesus talked about. And let me tell you, Jesus talked about money more than he did about most other things. So if you’re here for the first time, you may have chosen the very best day to be here. Because if you can learn to trust me to talk about money in a non-threatening way – as everyone here who has been here for any length of time trusts me to do – then I would invite you to return to see what we have to say about all the other stuff that Jesus talked about and the Scripture writers wrote about – and how all of the issues of faith apply to our lives. Money is one of those faith issues.
Like in today’s Gospel reading. This is one of the most quoted sayings of Jesus. “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus is responding to the question about whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. When shown the coin with which the taxes are paid, he pointed out that Caesar’s image was on the coin. Hence the saying, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Now here’s the thing for us in 21st Century America. We don’t have much of a choice about paying our taxes. Well, I suppose we could refuse to pay our taxes if we wanted to, but I don’t think that’s such a good idea. And we might joke – or grumble – about our government – about politicians – but still, life in these United States is mighty awesome. I don’t think we’d want to trade this for any other place in the world. So, when looked at from the point of view of the privileges and freedoms we have in this country – most of us don’t have too much of a problem when it comes to giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
And when it comes to giving to God the things that are God’s – well – we have a choice to make that we don’t have when it comes to paying our taxes.
So the first choice that we need to make is which god we’re going to serve. It is a choice that everyone makes. Let me be so bold as to suggest that the thing that you put first in your life – the thing you care most about – that is your god.
That’s why I chose our reading today from I Timothy chapter 6. Let’s start with verse 17 (queue ppt).
“As for those who in the present age are rich, [and by the way, when compared to everyone else in the rest of the world, we Americans, regardless of our economic status here, are all rich], command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
The Apostle Paul is writing to his protégé Timothy who at this time is in the city of Ephesus. What he is telling Timothy is this. “Tell the church in the city of Ephesus to choose which god it is that they are going to serve.” Notice that Paul is identifying three possible gods in this one verse alone.
The first is the god of self. See where he says, “Command them not to be haughty.” Command them not to be arrogant. I think there is a great danger when we think – and it is very easy to think this – “I’ve worked hard to get what I’ve got. I’ve earned it. I deserve it. I am a success. I am a self-made man – a self-made woman.”
I want to let you know that there is no such thing. We are all God-made men and God-made women. Take another look at the reading from Deuteronomy. (ppt #2) Verses 17 and 18.
“Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”
You are a God-made person. It is God who gives you abilities, talents, interests and skills that allow you to make a living. And for that, we need to give God the recognition – the thanks – and the praise. Paul’s command to the people in the church at Ephesus not to be haughty or arrogant is a command to us. The god of self is an easy pit to fall into.
The second god is the god of money. Back to I Timothy. “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
Remember over the last few weeks I have been telling you that the things in our homes can either be idols or tools? Do you remember that? If there were one thing that that applies to, it is money. Money is either an idol or a tool. And money is a wonderful tool! In 2001, money built this church, and let me also add that it is paid for! Amazing, yes? Which, by the way, is a reflection of your amazing generosity.
By the way, can we put to rest the thought that the Bible says, “Money is the root of all evil.”? That is the most mis-quoted verse in all the Bible! What I Timothy says is that, “The LOVE of money is A root of all evil.” Money is neither good nor bad. But it can be either an idol or a tool.
And I think money is a wonderful tool. With it we have food and shelter, clothing and transportation. We might even get to take an amazing vacation or a weekend away now and then. Money is a wonderful tool when used for good.
But money is a lousy god – a lousy idol. It is a lousy master. Notice Paul warns against the uncertainty of riches. For instance, anybody who has followed the stock market in just the past few weeks knows just how uncertain the markets can be. Such volatility! And yes, I do have a portion of my retirement funds in stock and bond funds, and as I watch things go up, down, up, down, I just say, “Oh well.” The markets are so uncertain that they prove just how right Paul is. “Do not set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches.” Do not let money become your god – your idol.
Because if the self becomes our god – or if money becomes our god – then what does that say about our relationship with the God of heaven and earth? Let me tell you about a third choice. Let’s look at it again.
“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
Let me tell you that – this is the best choice of the three. I have learned to trust God for all that I have ever needed. And please note that it says, “God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Sounds good to me.
So I guess the next question is, how do you know which of these three gods you are really serving? Ask yourself these questions.
Number 1. A few weeks ago I told you that God is the owner of all that we have. We are merely managers or stewards of what God has given us. So the first question might be, “How much of my money should I give to God?” Actually, that’s the wrong question. The right question to ask yourself is, “How much of God’s money can I keep for myself, and be a good manger of?” We’ve got to get the ownership question right. Am I giving what is mine to the Lord, or am I returning to the Lord what He has first given me?
Number 2. The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. So let me ask you. Are you a cheerful giver? Folks if you struggle with greed – as I sometimes struggle with greed – let me let you in on a little secret. There is only one way that I have found that works to overcome greed. And that is to practice generosity. With cheerfulness. Generosity with cheerfulness is a winning combination. It helps me anyway, to overcome the god of self and the god of money.
Number 3. How are you feeling right now. Are you resisting this message, or are you open to what this teaching from the Word of God has to say about money and possessions?
Number 4. If your checkbook could talk, would it say that you honor God? Listen to what Billy Graham says about this, “A checkbook is a theological document; it will tell you who and what you worship.” And then Martin Luther had this to say, “People go through three conversions: their head, their heart and their pocketbook. Unfortunately, not all at the same time.” Good old Marty.
Now that’s a lot to think about, I know. And as I told you last week, this church – your church – doesn’t need your money. But you – you have a need to give. And giving is a spiritual thing. It is good for your spirit. And that’s why the church talks about money, because money is a faith issue.
Because, you see, if we let it, money can become our god. The self can become our god. Or the Lord God – the God who makes Himself known to us in his Son Jesus Christ – can be our God. It’s your choice. It’s not a choice I can make for you.
So with all that in mind, may I encourage you as I do every year, to grow one step. On this our Consecration Weekend, let me encourage you to grow one step towards the tithe that the Bible defines as giving 10% of your income to God. Calculate where you are at in your giving right now, and let me challenge you to grow by 1% or even ½ % towards the goal of a tithe.
I just want you to know that your giving does make a difference. Because of you – the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – continues to be proclaimed in, from, and through this place.
One of the things that I love about this church – is your willingness – indeed your eagerness – to reach out to make a difference. Through your caring and your sharing. Touching hearts, changing lives, making a difference in the name of Jesus. As the last verse in I Timothy 6 says, this is grabbing hold – grabbing hold of the life that really is life.