November 24, 2002
John 6:1-13, "Jesus Feeds the 5,000"
A Life Well Lived (Spending His Way to Happiness)
by Charles Colson
Twenty-three hundred years ago, Greek philosophers known as Epicureans
believed that chance governed the universe. Since individuals had no
influence over their circumstances, the most they hoped for was that
their experiences were pleasant. This belief was, somewhat inaccurately, summed up in the phrase, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
While this epigram doesn't do justice to the Epicureans, it perfectly
sums up the worldview of one of America's corporate giants: Jack Welch,
former CEO of General Electric. News reports on his most recent divorce
have shed light on Welch's lifestyle.
Even after he retired, General Electric provided Welch with a luxury
apartment on Central Park West and free travel on company jets, and it
continued to provide him with the good things of life: flowers, furniture, opera tickets, and even stamps.
These disclosures about sticking GE with the tab for his lifestyle embarrassed Welch, who agreed to reimburse the company. But there's no
evidence that Welch is rethinking his idea of the good life.
Quite to the contrary, during an appearance at a public forum, Welch was
asked what he had learned from a brush with death seven years earlier when he had to have heart surgery to keep him alive. His answer: "I learned
I didn't spend enough money." When pressed—they thought he was joking—he added that, after his bypass surgery, he vowed never again to drink wine that cost less than one hundred dollars a bottle—and he was completely serious.
What a sad answer! What is even sadder is that Welch is hardly unique in
this regard. The past ten years has been characterized by a frenzied consumption, in which your choice of olive oil, kitchen gadgets, underclothes, and even cars became a "spiritual" matter.
Consumption as spirituality, like Epicureanism, is the product of a purely materialistic understanding of the universe. After a century and a half of Darwinism, materialistic worldviews have deprived people of any sense of purpose to life. As many Westerners believe, it is only chance that governs the universe. We are simply products of forces that did not have us in mind.
If that's the case, it makes sense to do all you can to maximize your material enjoyment. Whether it's drinking the best wine, eating the best food, or flying in a private jet, it makes no sense not to spend more money if this life is all there is.
Message: (much adapted from pp. 3-46, Leadership, Fall 2002)
I wonder if your mailbox is like mine? Every week I get 8 to 10 privately addressed advertisements for additional 'easy credit' credit cards with fantastic offers of 0% interest on balance transfers, rebates on purchases, and cash advancements. In addition to that, I get at an average of two ads per week offering easy credit for people I don't even know that don't live here. And what is more, I am pre-approved. There is no application hassle whatsoever.
I saw a credit card ad on the side of a CTA bus the other night. It said, "You were born pre-approved." The mantra of materialism wants to manipulate your mind.
Personal bankruptcies are running at epidemic proportions. Some 60% of Americans spend more annually than their income, according to Newsweek (4/27/01). U.S. consumers are a combined $7.3 trillion in debt.
But the flip side to all of this is the rest of the mail in the parsonage mailbox. For every easy credit ad I get, there are 4 or 5 very legitimate pleas for donations to help fund various worthwhile Christian ministries to advance the Kingdom of God. So even without whatever debts we might assume in our materialistic mindset, there are more opportunities to give than we will ever meet.
It is enough to make us numb to the need. If we can't meet it all, why meet any? Or at least we reason, why meet more? I do my share. Let the rest be for me.
Wesley Willmer in his book God & Your Stuff: The Vital Link Between Your Possessions and Your Soul points out: "17 of Jesus' 38 parables were about possessions. Possessions are mentioned 2,172 times in Scripture – three times more than love, seven times more than prayer, and eight times more than belief. About 15 percent of God's Word deals with possessions."
Why? Not because God thinks our stuff is the most important thing about us. But because how we handle our stuff, especially our money, is a diagnostic tool that reveals how we're doing with the things that truly are important. And where we invest our treasure on earth plays a huge role in our spiritual health.
As Paul writes in 2 Cor. 8 – "Just as you excel in everything else – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in earnestness, and in love – see that you also excel in the grace of giving."
The passage we just read together in John 6 is not one of Jesus' 38 parables on possessions. It was not a story, but a real event that has marvelous implications about our theme of stewardship today.
This miracle of multiplication leads to the truth of Jesus' saying, "I am the bread of life," in verse 34 later in the chapter when Jesus responds to the misunderstanding of the miracle by his disciples.
It is he, himself, that the people need for life. He is he, himself, that the people hunger for. It is he, himself, that will meet all their needs.
The theme of stewardship, and truth about it, is definitely an application we can receive from the account of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
It is not the 'bread' (hippie slang for money) of this world that we should work for but the bread (or money) of eternal life that matters.
That puts it in perspective, doesn't it? There are things we have been given by God that are much more valuable than earthly goods – even though earthly goods matter very much in God's program of redemption.
Draw applications on stewardship theme from John 6:1-13.
What we do with the things of God leads us to what we mean by the term 'stewardship'. Stewardship is what a steward performs.
It is Jesus' word, and it appears a number of times in the New Testament. But you won't find it in the NIV where steward is translated as foreman, manager, trustee, commissioner, or administrator. These are more modern terms that describe what a steward does.
In the New Testament context, a steward is a slave who has been entrusted with all the owner's stuff. It's not his. It's not yours. It's not mine. It all belongs to God.
The heart of stewardship is that we are to become disciples who are good stewards of God's stuff.
We want to help people understand that materialism and Christianity are both theologies at odds for their allegiance. While materialism's highest value is possession, Christianity stresses stewardship of God's possessions. The foundational principle is that we do not own our "stuff," but rather God entrusts it to us to serve as his trustees.
The motivation for teaching biblical stewardship in our church is primarily because it is in the Bible, not because we are hurting for cash or because ministries are being shut down or because opportunities may be lost.
If you believe in the biblical principle of the 10% tithe, and I do, we might all ask ourselves how well we are doing with it – especially if we believe that it all belongs to God. Some Christians have the faith to give substantial offerings over and above a 10% tithe.
But Pastor Knute Larson of The Chapel in Akron, OH, once had a guy in his congregation tell him, "I tithe 2%, and I do it regularly."
Indeed, the average giving for evangelical churches is less than 3%, or less than $1,000 per attender per year.
Surveys of churches in the Midwest all show about the same thing – that about 15% of attenders give 85% of the money.
I think that is true as much here in our church as anywhere. More balance is necessary. Not that the big investors should give less - they are financing valuable kingdom work - but that the rest should come alongside so that the work might truly prosper.
Churches can become locked in a "money mindset" rather than a "ministry mindset." Money rather than ministry can be held out as the all-consuming factor in so many ways that it drives people away because the cart is before the horse.
Money can be "controlled" by leadership to such an extent that people rebel against the control and quit giving generously even when it is their desire to give generously. I truly believe that people want to give to God.
In reality, the currency for ministry is not really money, or even people. It's trust. If people trust the leadership, they will follow and support the vision and direction of leadership.
We need to realize that there are differences in methods and motivations between generations. For older people (usually the 15 % that gives the 85%) it's about a project. They give because they are supposed to give. They tithe because they are supposed to tithe. But for younger people, it's often more about the mission than the project. They are motivated by the joy of mission.
So especially for younger people, trust is bigger than money, but it can be symbolized by money. Younger people will often come alongside in giving if they feel they can trust the leadership that is usually older than they are.
Pastor Michael Foss from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN, notes his experience that people who are joyous givers are the least insistent on their own way, and those who think they have the right to set the agenda for the church are rarely generous people.
On the other side, giving can be unintentionally downplayed because of the bad press that some ministries have given it. This is like an over-reaction to the abuse of money and can seem to give people permission not to give. This works against the good of all because to give is a blessing for the giver as well as for the beneficiaries of the ministries they finance.
Sometimes all we need do is help people see how giving helps them change and grow and give them the opportunity to do it.
We need to help people see the trap of consumerism. Many younger people in the church are begging for a different relationship with money. Theirs is the generation most targeted by the easy credit ads. Some young people are catching on to the trap that their main value to our society is merely to be consumers of all the unending stuff that forced on them.
But the Bible shows us that God's people are not to be mere consumers. That is the reason for the tithe and the Sabbath. We're supposed to depend on God and trust God to provide.
We must remember the intent of Jesus' model prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread," which implies that God's people are to trust God for our provision rather than ourselves.
Jesus teaching was as counter-cultural in his day as it is in ours. Our temptation is to keep more than enough for ourselves and depend on our own efforts. But we are to intentionally have less than we can consume.
Our tithing is not for the sake of the tithe itself, or even for the facilities, but for the kingdom. Once you start tithing, you soon realize you can live off 90%. It is really a shift in thinking.
One of the reasons churches in North America have trouble guiding people about money is that the church's economy is built on consumerism. If churches see themselves as suppliers of religious goods and services and people as consumers, then offerings are "payment."
We should be reluctant to call our worship gatherings as "service," because the word has lost its original meaning. It once meant that people gathered in service to God. Now worshipers consider themselves recipients of a religious service. Sermons and childcare are provided and a fee is appropriate for the services rendered.
Even for those who tithe, there may be the attitude that they pay the church just as they pay for the car or the health club. Giving to the church is part of being a holistic community, not just paying for services.
We must overcome any tendency for the church to become a consumer of giver's money rather than as a conduit for supporting ministry.
We must promote the noble concept of 'faith raising' rather than the less appropriate concept of 'fundraising'.
God is primarily interested in growing our faith, not getting our money. If the first happens, the second will naturally occur.
Our culture of stewardship must be all about growing God's people, not growing our budget. God's people give to the ministry of Christ, not to meet a budget.
We must mature our people from worldly spenders to eternal money managers. We must focus on what God has done to change a life more toward himself.
As disciples conform to the character of God, they grow in their desire to give. It is God's nature to give. John 3:16 tells us, "For God so loved the world that he gave ---."
The world teaches us to:
(1) Earn our money.
(2) Enjoy our money. Usually we over-enjoy it, putting us in debt.
(3) Repay our debt – from overspending.
(4) Save for future needs – once you are out of debt.
(5) Give – if and when anything is left over.
But God teaches us to manage our money by inverting this order after we have earned our money:
(1) Give first.
(2) Then save.
(3) Then repay.
(4) Then enjoy.
This is a teaching on reordered priorities.
Prioritizing our use of money by God's principles results in more peace, generosity, and financial freedom.
Some churches have stepped in to help their people manage their debt load. Pastor James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church here in Chicago started "Debt Free" Sunday school classes, which run quarterly, giving people further training and accountability.
Pastor Meeks said, "To demonstrate our commitment to eliminating debt, we asked people to give us a list of their outstanding bills. The first Sunday of every month, we draw a name and pay the bills of one family, up to $3,000. We also held a double tithe Sunday, and the church paid off its mortgage."
Now, I guarantee the first will keep you coming to church, but second might not. The point is how the church can promote a godly perspective on money by working together for the good of its people as well as its ministries. When one prospers, so does the other.
In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to tithe – 10% of their crops and flocks were returned to God. In our time he has given us Jesus Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the fellowship of the church, the privilege of living in the most affluent nation in the world, plus so many personal blessings. Yet when we ask him how much we should give, he just says, 'Give as you want to be/are prospered.' Most people want to be generous.
[“ Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."” (Luke 6:38 NIVUS)]
[“ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8 NIVUS)]
[“ But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48 NIVUS)]
When you are a wise steward it honors God, relieves tension, gives you self-confidence, eliminates guilt, enhances your witness, and enables you to give more generously.
Jesus made it clear there's a close tie between people's pocketbooks and their hearts. He didn't say, "If a person's heart is right they will give." He said, "When you invest your money in something, your heart will follow." When we motivate people to give, we're helping them to put their hearts in the right place.
[“ "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIVUS)]