15 percent of everything Christ said relates to this topic [of money and possessions] – more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined. Why did Jesus put such an emphasis on money and possessions? Because there’s a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money. We may try to divorce our faith and our finances, but God sees them as inseparable.
So writes Randy Alcorn. Now, I realise that the subject of our finances is sensitive. Researchers say that one in five Britons suffers from financial phobia … rendering them unable to handle their personal finances. Despite efforts to persuade them to take responsibility for their affairs, many sufferers will avoid doing so at all costs.
In fact the best way to assess the state of our finances is to go to the Scriptures. The Bible lays bare our financial condition far more thoroughly than any financial adviser could ever do.
In 1 Timothy 6 Paul is training Timothy to train those he teaches about money. If you’re not there yet, please turn up 1 Timothy 6.17-19.
Paul has just been warning Timothy about the false teachers who had the potential to wreck people’s faith and cause devastation in the church. And he says that one of the things motivating what they’re doing is the prospect of financial gain. They’re using religion to make money.
So in these verses Paul teaches two lessons. So:
First, SET YOUR HOPES ON GOD NOT MONEY
This is verse 17:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (v17)
Paul is clear that having wrong attitudes to money is dangerous. That’s true if we aspire to have more money, or if we’ve got wealth that others only dream of.
The desire to be rich is a snare (as he puts it back in 6.9). The desire to be rich is to us what the rodent’s craving for that cheese on the trap is to them. It looks oh so harmless and delectable, that little lump of cheddar on its ever so conveniently placed wooden platter.
The growth of debt in this country suggests that a very large proportion of us want to get rich. Last week it was reported that lending to individuals, through mortgages as well as credit cards and overdrafts, was at an all time high in the UK by the end of 2013.
Wealth is not wrong in itself – far from it. As the end of verse 17 says:
God … richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
God doesn’t want us to covet what we don’t have. But he does want us to relish what he gives us. And he gives us so much – not least food and water and clothing and a shelter over our heads.
Saying grace before meals as a mere thoughtless formality is worse than pointless. But saying grace before meals and meaning it is genuinely life-transforming. Why? Because it cultivates gratitude. A wholesome enjoyment and thankfulness for the simple blessings of life is a powerful antidote to craving after more.
We need to appreciate the good things God gives us that are right there in front of us. We mustn’t wait until things are taken from us before we take the trouble to notice what God has given us. Appreciate all the simple blessings God gives you.
Andrew Dilnot’s recent radio series ‘A History of Britain in Numbers’ drew attention to the fact that we are on average astonishingly wealthy here and now. It included this.
To get an idea of how much lower incomes were just before the first world war, do this simple sum:
Take your current income, leave prices overall as they are, and then cut your income by 80%. So if you are earning £30,000, imagine how you’d get by on £6,000.
I think we can take it that the apostle Paul would put the vast majority – or all – of us in the ‘rich’ category. And he warns us rich of the danger of a haughty arrogance.
Some of us will be more prone to this. If our image of ourselves is that we’re standing high up on a mound of money, then we’ll think that we can look down on all those around us who have hardly got off the ground financially speaking.
This arrogance flows from a failure to understand that it’s God who is the source of wealth and not us, and that ultimately all our wealth belongs to God.
And with this danger of arrogance comes the danger of putting our hope in wealth. The temptation is to think that we can rely on money – that money is what makes us secure. We think we can safely build our lives on it. But we can’t. It gives way under us. Wealth is extremely uncertain and it collapses beneath the weight of the hope that we pile on top of it. Our hope should be in God not money.
You will not be taking your credit cards to heaven. Or your piggy bank. That is a very simple fact. But it is very simply overlooked by vast swathes of humanity. Take it to heart, and the chains fall off. There is great freedom to be had from grasping the obvious but badly neglected truth that we can’t take it with us. So use your money well, while you can. Think heaven, not just earth. Which brings me to my other main heading. So:
Secondly, INVEST YOUR MONEY BY GENEROUS GIVING
This is from verses 18-19:
They [the rich] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (v18-19)
The right use of wealth is to use it to do good – lots of good. The right use of wealth is to give – to be generous. Too many of us regard ourselves as generous people, without ever giving anything much anyway. What does it mean to be generous? It means that we give lots to other people.
If you can’t think of a seriously generous gesture you’ve made, then let me make a suggestion that could change your life. Plan a generous action. Then carry out your plan. And in this case it is not the thought that counts –it’s the doing of it. We need to train ourselves in generosity. Because it is something we learn. There is no gene for it. It doesn’t come naturally. It is a question of obeying the command of Scripture. Be generous. Enjoy giving to others what God gives you. Billy Graham said:
God has given us two hands – one to receive with and one to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.
We give for the needs of others when we love them. We love others when we love Christ. We love Christ when we grasp how he has loved us. So giving is a practical sign of love.
Giving begins with the heart and the will. It begins with a recognition of how great our debt to God is - until Jesus clears it for us. It begins with a recognition of how much Jesus gave in order to set us free.
Then it’s no longer a question of “what is the minimum that I can get away with giving”. Instead, there is an inner desire to give which makes it more satisfying to give money than to keep it.
Paul says that those who put generosity into action by giving freely are thus …:
… storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
When you invest your earthly money in spiritual priorities, your return may not be in Sterling. It may be paid instead in the currency of glory given to God, and lives turned towards Christ, and real needs met, and others encouraged and inspired to give of themselves and their resources, and peace and joy, and a new willingness to give yourself even more wholeheartedly. But whatever the currency is, be sure of this: you will get a return - a hundred times over.
One young woman wrote:
Almost accidentally, I began my twenties in a job that was the envy of all my friends… I earned a wage that allowed me to go shopping every lunchtime and live from one exotic holiday to the next…
Generosity didn’t cross my mind …
Twenty-somethings … end up chasing money for an ever-elusive deposit on a home we’re told we may never own, living from one Apple product launch to the next. The world tells us that our worth depends on these things, and … there’s always a quiet voice that tells us, “You need more.”
The world doesn’t tell us what to do when life takes a nosedive…
Although I loved my job, I’m incredibly grateful that God moved me to a place in my career and in my life where I could witness the transformational nature of generosity …
We wrongly believe generosity is hard because it involves hard choices and sacrifices, and we don’t recognise the freedom in it…
I’ve had more of an adventure since I started giving than I had in the entire twenty-something years before.
Last Sunday evening Ian recommended this little book by Randy Alcorn, called The Treasure Principle. And I’d like to repeat that recommendation this morning. Let me give you a taste. I quote:
John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men who every lived. After he died someone asked his accountant, “How much money did John D. leave?” The reply was classic: “He left … all of it” …
You can’t take it with you – but you can send it on ahead.
… Anything we try to hang on to here will be lost. But anything we put into God’s hands will be ours for eternity …
If we give instead of keep, if we invest in the eternal instead of in the temporal, we store up treasures in heaven that will never stop paying dividends. Whatever treasures we store up on earth will be left behind when we leave. Whatever treasures we store up in heaven will be waiting for us when we arrive…
End of quote. I would love it if every one of us read this little book. It’s short, pithy and it packs a punch. But if we take on board its message – which is really the message of these verses in 1 Timothy 6 – then that’ll change our lives and our church even more profoundly than we’ve already experienced.
And pick up one the green leaflets about the CAP Money Course that Ramzi’s organising. I had a preview of the material and had a quick go at the self-assessment test that helps you think about where you are on the spending-to-saving spectrum, and about the relative virtues and vices of both spending and saving. It gave me quite a jolt and I’m still working through what I found out about myself. We need to be thought-through and intentional about how we handle God’s money. This is a great way of setting aside some time and getting some tools to help that process – and I’m already booked in.
Let’s take seriously this issue of how we handle our money. God sees our faith and our finances as inseparable. We must set our hopes on God not money. And we must invest our money by generous giving.