Some of you will remember my first car - a Vauxhall Cavalier of a very odd yellow variety. One year, after it had passed its MOT, a friend said she thought it should have failed on colour if nothing else. But I loved it - not least because it taught me the vital lesson: do not invest in what will not last. (The older the banger, the more ruthless you must be in spending on them only the necessary minimum.)
And at the start of our 2003 Giving Review, we're going to hear Jesus give the same lesson on money. Do not invest in what will not last. So would you turn to Matthew 6.19. Where Jesus says,
First, INVEST IN HEAVEN, NOT HERE (vv19-20)
What I hear the world saying is this: 'Earn all you can, so you can spend all you can, and so you can save all you can - so that even when you've stopped earning, you can keep spending. Ie, 'Store up for yourself treasures on earth'. So that things like houses and cars and possessions and pensions become the ultimate goals in life. But what Jesus says is this, v19:
'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.' (v19-20)
Ie, heaven should be our ultimate goal in life. There is a future heaven and hell - as well as a present here on earth. And we know that, because the Jesus who spoke these words died on the cross to forgive our sins, and rose again from the dead. So we know there is a heaven because Jesus clearly went somewhere. And if we're trusting him for forgiveness, we also know we're going there - either when we die or when Jesus returns to wrap up history (whichever is sooner).
So cast your mind forward to that day - either when we die or Jesus returns. What will matter to us, then?
I don't know if you've ever been involved in a fire alarm for real. You know how the fire instructions always say, 'Do not re-enter the building for personal belongings.' And when it's for real, that makes perfect sense. Because standing out there in the car park you know that what ultimately matters is: you and the other people who've got out with you - not the things you've left behind.
And that's the kind of perfect hindsight we'll have in heaven - when all things are left behind, and only two things will really matter. One is: anything we did to help other people to be there - what I'll call gospel-work. Anything we did through which God brought people to faith in Jesus and built people up in faith. And the other thing that will matter is simply any other good we did people - what I'll just call good work. Eg, the kind of 'good work' that Paul speaks of in 1 Timothy 6:
Command those who are rich in this present world [ie, everyone in this building] not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6.17-19)
It's not that good works can 'buy' us a place in heaven. The only way into relationship with God now - and so, into heaven when we die - is the forgiveness that Jesus paid for when he died on the cross. But those who know they've been forgiven and are going to heaven will, above all, want to invest in those two things: gospel-work and good work. Those are the things we'll most treasure in heaven, in hindsight. So Jesus says: let's have perfect foresight and treasure them now. Let's invest not just time and energy, but money in those things now. 'Invest in heaven, not here,' says Jesus. And he gives us two motivations. Here's the first:
IT'LL SHOW YOUR WISDOM (vv19-20)
Ie, it's a wise investment of money. Verse 19 again:
'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.' (vv19-20)
The wise person invests in what lasts. And to put it bluntly, nothing on earth does. Except human beings, nothing will last.
Eg, the story of my Vauxhall Cavalier was that rust - and quite possibly moth - destroyed. The story of my next car was that thieves broke in and stole. All I got back was a poignant parcel from the salvage company containing two tapes, my road atlas and - ironically - the steering wheel lock. Cars don't last. And with hindsight, I wonder why I ever invested in them more than the necessary minimum. Eg, why did I ever clean them (apart from being able to see through the windows)? Little does number 3 know what a ruthless owner he's now got.
The wise person invests in what lasts. Eg, take our houses or flats. When we die or Jesus returns, we'll leave them behind. And what we did to them - the DIY, the new kitchen or bathroom and so on - will really not matter. What'll last is what we did in them: the hospitality we showed; the housemates and lodgers we cared for; the friendships and marriages and families we built; the ministry we did. Or, eg, take your children. There's huge pressure from the world to spend on them. But when we die or Jesus returns, we'll realise with perfect hindsight that it's things like spending on Youth Work, on Scripture Union workers, on Christian camps, and so on, that ultimately mattered.
The wise person invests as much as possible in what lasts, and the necessary minimum in what doesn't. Whereas, as one writer put it, 'Our society is now ultimately concerned with things that are not ultimate.'
So, down to application. Imagine your income as a pie. The Bible says there are four things our money should go on; four slices the pie should be cut into. Slice one: gospel-work - supporting both the church we belong to and missionary work further afield. Slice two: our needs and the needs of our dependents (and that includes saving for future needs). Slice three: good work - meeting the needs of others, especially poor others. And slice four: taxes.
So the crucial thing is obviously the slice we cut for ourselves. The more we think we need, the smaller the gospel-work and good-work slices will become. So can I make the plea - and I say this to myself first - that we should be hard on ourselves in defining what we need? Let's be honest: we all live to some degree on a mixture of what's necessary and what's luxury. For most of us, one of our biggest temptations is to let our standard of living creep up as our income goes up. So that although the whole pie gets larger, the slices going to gospel-work and good work ironically get smaller. Statistics in the US and the UK show that for Christians, as income goes up, the percentage of income we give goes down. Money gets to our hearts.
So can I make the plea - and I say this to myself first - that we constantly reassess what we think we need? And that we remember we must justify before God how we spend what are, after all, his resources?
The Bible teaches us to give a percentage of our income to gospel-work and good-work done in Jesus' name. And it shouldn't be a percentage arrived at by default after we've cut as large a slice as we like for ourselves. It shouldn't be the 'fag-end' of our money but the first-planned use of our money. Look down to 6.31. Jesus says:
So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans [ie, people who don't trust in him] run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6.31-33)
And applied to money, that means cut first the slice of the pie to give to gospel-work and good work. Which is the point of our Giving Review at the start of each year. So, can I encourage you soon - even during the Giving Review - to put a time in the diary to do some money planning? If you're a new Christian, it's a great opportunity to start letting Jesus be Lord of your money - or rather his money which happens, at the moment, to be in your pocket. I suggest at least this. Sit down with a sheet of paper and write 'Heaven and Hell' at the top. That gives the whole thing perspective. Then write down your 2003 gross income. Then budget what you need - being hard on yourself about that word 'need'. Then you know what you've got for giving. And then go back to the 'what I/we need' slice to see how honest you've really been with yourself.
In our Giving Literature, you'll find a suggestion of giving 10% - 5% to the work of JPC, here, and 5% to overseas gospel-work and good work in Jesus' name. For some, that's unmanageable right now. Well, it's only a suggestion - the Lord knows our exact circumstances - and this is between each of us and him. For others, 10% is too little to be godly, given the income we're on. It's a suggestion to start from and work up from. So, eg, I know of people who give 25 % - one of whom is a pastor (hardly 'raking it in'). John Laing, the head of the construction business, capped his standard of living for a lifetime and as his income soared, he gave increasingly large percentages - the majority of it - away. He probably began giving 10% and ended up living on 10%!
If this is all new to you, one way in is this. Just imagine you were told tomorrow that your 2003 income (salary, pension, whatever) was to be cut immediately by 10%. What would you cut out of your spending to make ends meet? Well, whatever your answer, it's also the answer to the question, 'How could I give 10%?' But why do the exercise with 10%? Why don't we try it with 20% or maybe 30% and see what thoughts God puts into our minds about how to use what are, after all, his resources?
Now I say all this to myself first and, like you, I find these words of Jesus are a big challenge. Probably the biggest challenge is to those of us who are single professionals - high income, but with no other mouths to feed. But for any of us to live in our materialistic culture in a remotely godly way takes real vigilance and honesty before God (and honesty before one another - we need as brothers and sisters in Christ gently to challenge and help one another on all this). But I also want to encourage, and say: I do see a lot of generosity among us, so like Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, can I say - and I say it to myself first - 'do this more and more'?
Before we leave vv19-20, two things Jesus is not saying. Jesus is not saying, 'Don't save'. Elsewhere the Bible commends saving for future needs. But we need to be honest before God about that word need. And we need to reject the world's message of, 'Save as much as you can' - which has got to be ungodly, when you think about it. I could easily do that - by not giving.
And the other thing: Jesus is not saying, 'Don't earn a lot'. Some of us are earning, or will earn, a large pay packet. And that's not something to feel guilty about. But if that is you, then spending a lot and giving a little is something to feel guilty about. Because salaries (of all sizes) are not merely self-made spending power. Salaries are God-given giving power. And we do need Christians who unashamedly make a lot in order to give a lot to gospel-work and good work in Jesus' name.
Invest in heaven, not here, says Jesus. Because it'll show your wisdom. But the other motivation is this:
IT'LL SHOW YOU'RE CHRISTIAN (vv21-24)
Ie, it's not just a wise investment. It's a revealing investment. Verse 19 again:
'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' (vv19-21)
Ie, 'Show me what a person does with his or her money,' says Jesus, 'And I'll tell you whether they're really living for me or not.' Verse 21: 'For where your treasure is [where you actually invest your money], there your heart will be also [that actually reveals what - or who - you're ultimately committed to].' In the Bible, 'the heart' is a picture word for the very centre of me - the place I decide my ultimate commitments. And Jesus says, 'Show me how a person uses their money; show me how they daydream spending a win on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?; show me their levels of generosity, hospitality and sharing; show me what they actually give to gospel-work and good work… and I'll tell you whether I'm really Lord of their life.'
These verses come in what's called the 'Sermon on the Mount' - Matthew 5-7. And one of Jesus' concerns in this sermon is how easily we kid ourselves (and others). How easily we say that we trust him and that he's Lord - but what we actually do calls that into question. And in this sermon, Jesus is out to alert us to that danger - including the supreme danger of thinking we're in relationship with him when in fact we're not. And money is one of the indicators Jesus point us to for a spiritual 'reality-check'.
In v21, Jesus puts in terms of 'the heart'. In v22, in terms of 'the eye':
'The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!' (vv22-23)
The 'eye' is a word-picture for our vision in life. Verse 22:
'If your eyes are good [the original word literally means 'single' as in single-minded, single-focused],' your whole body will be full of light.'
Ie, if we're focussed on the Lord Jesus and heaven, we'll have the light of that perspective on our financial decisions. So we'll have clear judgement. We'll see what ultimately matters, what lasts and what doesn't, and invest accordingly. Verse 23:
'But if your eyes are bad [the original word has overtones of selfishness], your whole body will be full of darkness.'
Ie, we'll have clouded judgment. We'll value the wrong things and invest in the wrong things and even let money dictate decisions at the expense of doing the right thing. Perhaps today the Lord might have used the picture of the windscreen of our lives - by nature iced up with materialism so we can't see properly to drive - until we experience the 'de-icer' of trusting Jesus.
The heart, the eye, then a third picture to drive home the same point: the Master, v24:
'No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.'
Today we can work for two employers part-time, because they don't own us (although some of them try). But Jesus was talking about Masters who owned their slaves, who had the final say over everything they did. And Jesus is saying: either God or money has that ownership, that final say in our lives. It can't be 'both, and'. And we find out at crunch times. Eg, there's the attraction of a big salary, versus the moral compromise the job will demand. Do we say 'Yes' to God or Money? For international brothers and sisters, there's the voice that says 'Stay here in the materialistic west and be comfortable', versus the voice that says, 'Go back to your home country to serve the Lord and the spread of the gospel there.' Do we say 'Yes' to God or Money?
Perhaps above all, there's the crunch time of the Giving Review when Money says, 'Keep me!' and God says, 'Give'. Do we say 'Yes' to God or Money? There's one sure way to know that Money is not Master in our lives. One sure way to know that its power over us has been broken. And that is to give it away. Give money away, and then you know it's serving you, not the other way round.
So that's the message of these words of the Lord Jesus this Giving Review time, 2003: Invest in heaven, not here. Because it'll show you're wisdom. But more importantly, it'll show you're Christian. Because as we search our pockets, what we actually find is our hearts.