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Faithlife

The Power of Wealth: Generosity

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ATTENTION

When you haven't any coal in the stove and you freeze in the winter

And you curse to the wind at your fate.

When you haven't any shoes on your feet and your coat's thin as paper

And you look thirty pounds underweight,

When you go to get a word of advice from the fat little pastor,

he will tell you to love evermore.

But when hunger comes to rap, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, at the window

See how love flies out the door.

For money makes the world go around, the world go around,

the world go around.

Money makes the world go around,

the clinking, clanking sound

of Money, money, money, money,

Money, money, money, money,

Get a little, get a little,

Money, money, money, money,

Mark, a yen, a buck or a pound,

That clinking, clanking clunking sound

is all that makes the world go round,

It makes the world go round.

While many of us might say we disagree with that sentiment, I think we also have to admit that money really does drive the world system in which we live. Have a war and the world yawns; have an economic crisis like we’re in now and the world snaps to attention. In fact, the thing that has most stuck me about this current crisis is how unimportant countries are becoming. The U.S. is actively engaging foreign countries and reacting to their crisis with legislation. A Congress which you and I could petition and get no action, can’t seem to act fast enough in response to other countries. Why is that? Because money makes the world go around. It is, indeed, a powerful thing.

And there have been many reactions to its power. It was Karl Marx, the father of Communism who said that the power of money must be destroyed. He railed against money as the corrupter of life when he said:

. . . what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness — its deterrent power — is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has a power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

He went on to quote Shakespeare, calling money, the “visible divinity”. And in order for there to be true equality, then, he promoted the destruction of individual wealth. His attitude towards the power of money? DESTROY IT!

As we’ve already said, our culture takes the opposite approach. We don’t want to destroy the power of money, we worship it. Mark Twain said, “Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, and over these ideals they dispute, but they all worship money.”

Jesus comes against both of these extremes. Jesus doesn’t tell us to destroy the power of money, and He certainly warns us against worshiping it. He, instead, tells us that we can leverage the power of wealth for His Kingdom. In other words, we don’t worship money and we don’t seek to destroy its power, we use it’s power for his kingdom.

NEED

Now, I’m aware when I begin talking about money, some of us immediately feel guilty. You see there are a few of you here this morning that are doing ok. Well, let’s just be honest: If you moved to New York or San Francisco, you would not be considered wealthy, but here in Wilson, NC, you’re pretty well off. You’re here this morning, so you probably know Jesus Christ as your Savior. You know you’re saved and you have money, and sometimes you feel guilty that God has blessed you so much and there are so many people around you who have so little. I want you to listen to this message today. God wants you to enjoy the blessings that He has given you, and I want to show you how to do that without feeling guilty.

Yes, when it comes to money, there are some who have it, and feel guilty, but there are some of you who chase it, and are frustrated. You’ve schemed and worked, scrimped and saved, yet the saving’s account keeps bumping back to zero and the debt keeps piling. God has a way for you not only to stop being frustrated, but truly enjoy what you have. Listen this morning.

Well, some of us have it and feel guilty, some of us chase it and get frustrated, and there are some who need it and feel angry. The truth is you are bitter at God because He just seems to be absolutely oblivious to you and your need. You’ve prayed and prayed; you’ve got other people to pray. You’re like a guy I talked to recently that said, “I pray about my finances, and nothing seems to change. What’s the point?” Listen, God may want to show you something going on in your heart that He wants to fix. In every case, whether guilty, frustrated, or angry, God wants to show you how to leverage your financial situation for His glory. So how does He tell us to do it?

Read 1 Tim 6:17-19

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

From this passage, here are three financial steps you and I can take to leverage our wealth for the glory of God. If we want to leverage wealth, we must:

DIV 1: AVOID THE CRASHES

EXPLANATION: Pride

There are some pitfalls, some “crashes”, if you will, that this passage talks. The first one begins v 17. Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be “haughty.” Wealth lends itself to pride, very often. If you have money you are tempted to think that financial value equates to intrinsic worth. Simply put, you may think that you are better than those who have less. Now you wouldn’t say it that way exactly, but in your heart of hearts you might think something like this: “Hey, if they had just had the gumption to go to college and apply themselves like I did, maybe they could get a good job.” Or you might say, “I could have taken an hourly job and played it safe, but I took the risk of starting my own business. I have more because I worked harder, I risked more, I’m a little smarter and a lot more ambitious. I have more money because I’m just a little bit better.” That’s exactly why Paul warns those who have wealth not to be haughty.

ILLUSTRATION

Napoleon is portrayed by the artists he commissioned to memorialize him as a strutting little man, standing defiantly with his right hand pushed between his vest buttons or as a hero astride a fiery steed, pointing the way for his troops to cross the Alps. His bicorn hat made him instantly recognizable and imitated at costume parties through the years. He was proud, a man driven by ambition to conquer Europe.

On the morning of the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon was describing to his commanding officer his strategy for that day’s campaign. He said, “We’ll put the infantry here, the cavalry over there, and the artillery in that spot. At the end of the day, England will be at the feet of France, and Wellington will be the prisoner of Napoleon.”

The commanding officer responded, “But we must not forget that man proposes and God disposes.”

With typical arrogance, the little dictator pulled his body to its full five-feet-two and replied, “I want you to understand, sir, that Napoleon proposes and Napoleon disposes.”

Victor Hugo, the novelist, wrote, “From that moment, Waterloo was lost, for God sent rain and hail so that the troops of Napoleon could not maneuver as he had planned, and on the night of battle it was Napoleon who was prisoner of Wellington, and France was at the feet of England.”

Money has a way of turning all of us into little Napoleons, thinking that we are the cause of our own successes. At its heart, you need to know that this is the very reason, by the way, some of you don’t tithe. Its because you think that you’re responsible for what you have, that you earned it, and you get to say where it goes. That my friend is pride and pride is number one on God’s hate list. It’s also the first pitfall of money, but its not the only one.

EXPLANATION: Self-Reliance

Paul goes on to say, “Command those who are rich in this present world, not to be haughty (listen) nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God. He says, “Hey, if you’re wealthy, don’t be haughty and flaunt your wealth and then he says, don’t trust your wealth or rely on it. Why not, Paul? I mean, if money makes the world go round, why can’t you trust it? Well, it’s because of how he characterizes riches in this verse. He calls them uncertain. Like trusting a politician who promises not to forget why you sent him to Washington, riches make fools of their constituents. Money will always let you down, if you put your trust in it.

ILLUSTRATION

Did you hear about the guy who needed money. He was a big thinker. If he was going to risk counterfeiting money, he was going to make it worth his while. If his scheme worked, he’d give the cashier a big bill and get real money in exchange for fake money. So he decided to pass off not a counterfeit $100 bill, not a counterfeit $1000 bill, not even a couterfeit $10,000 bill, but a counterfeit $1,000,000 bill!

Well, he thought big, but he thought badly. First, you have to suspect that the average checkout clerk doesn't keep a million dollars in her drawer. Second, you have to think that a one million dollar bill is going to attract some extra attention and might even bring the scrutiny of the store manager. Third—this is the clincher—there is no such thing as a $1,000,000 bill. The largest currency printed in the U.S. is a $100 bill! Well, you know how it ended. The police showed up and arrested him. His dreams went up in smoke . . . just like they always do when you put your trust in money whether its counterfeit or not.

EXPLANATION: Guilt

But there’s one more pitfall that this passage mentions, or at least implies. Quite honestly, this one might surprise you. Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.”

Here’s what you need to know that no pastor may have ever told you directly: GOD WANTS YOU TO ENJOY WHAT YOU HAVE! Listen, if what you have is surrendered to Him, God wants you to really enjoy what He gives you. Some people who have wealth walk around feeling guilty about it. Now you ought to if you are hoarding it and refusing to share, but if you understand what it means to be a steward and if everything you have is surrender to Christ, God says, “Enjoy!!” That word “enjoy” means enjoyment based upon the satisfaction of one’s desires. In other words, I don’t have to feel guilty about taking pleasure in something that God has blessed me with, if I am not haughty over it, nor am I depending on it for my ultimate happiness.

ILLUSTRATION

This can be a hard lesson for some: Isak Dinsen wrote a wonderful story called Babette’s Feast. In a strict, dour community in Denmark, Babette worked as a cook. Her dream is to return to France where she was once a chef for nobility. Every year she buys a lottery ticket in hopes of striking it rich and having the money to return. One day the unbelievable happens. She wins 10,000 francs in the lottery. Because the anniversary of the founding of the community is approaching, she asks if she might prepare a small meal in honor of the day, only to be told that “it would be a sin to indulge in such rich food. “ But Babette begs them, so they finally give in so as not to hurt her, but each vows in their minds not to enjoy the feast and to, instead, occupy their minds with spiritual things, thinking that God will blame them if they have too much fun.

Babette begins to prepare. Caravans of exotic food arrive: cages of quail, barrels of wine. Finally the day arrives and the meal begins with turtle soup. The villagers force it down without enjoyment, but although they have begun to eat in silence, but before long conversation takes off. Someone smiles. Someone else giggles. The atmosphere begins to change. An arm comes up and drapes over a shoulder. Someone is heard to say, “After all did not the Lord Jesus say, love one another?”" By the time the main entrée of quail arrives, those austere, pleasure-fearing people are giggling and laughing and slurping and guffawing and praising God for their many years together. This pack of Pharisees is transformed into a loving community through the gift of a meal. One of the two sisters goes into the kitchen to thank Babette, saying, "Oh, how we will miss you when you return to Paris!" And Babette replies, "I will not be returning to Paris, because I have no money. I spent it all on the feast."

God does not expect us to live dour, dried up lives, feeling guilty over what He blesses us with. I love what C. S. Lewis says: “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

You see, God does want us to enjoy what He gives us, but only after we have surrendered what He gives us.

APPLICATION

So how are you doing with the pitfalls of money? Are you proud? Do you look around at all the poor saps who are losing their jobs and secretly think in your heart, “If they’s have some gumption and start their own business like I did, they would not have to be a t the mercy of someone else’s whim. Do you look around at those who struggle to make ends meet and may even ask for help and think, “If they were a better worker, they’d make more money and they wouldn’t have to struggle like that.” Does pride keep you from leveraging your wealth? Does it blind you to the fact that even though you have money, you didn’t create it and it doesn’t even belong to you?

Are you trusting your money? Trusting your money exhibits a couple of symptoms. The first occurs when you have plenty and you trust in it for your security to the point that, when you think of losing what you have, you are petrified. The other occurs when you don’t have money, and you are missing your joy because you are filled with fear and a lack of faith. Both of these are symptoms of the same problem: trusting uncertain riches.

Are you filled with guilt? Do you enjoy what God has given you, or are you like the little villagers who made up their mind not to enjoy the feast? Worse yet, do you place guilt on others? Do you judge them because of the wealth God has given them to enjoy nad secretly think that you’re more spiritual because you are poor? You see, guilt will keep you from leveraging your wealth because it will distort your motives. It will cause you to give out of obligation instead of joy.

God calls us to leverage what He has given us for His glory and if we are to do that, we must avoid the pitfalls of money: pride, self-reliance and false guilt. But it must go further. If we are to leverage what He gives us for His glory, we must

DIVISION 2: EXPLOIT THE OPPORTUNITIES

EXPLANATION

You see the opportunity of wealth clearly stated in v 18. The Bible says: “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.” The action that Paul commands here is that they should do good and be rich in good works. That action flows out of two attitudes given in the next two phrases. First, it says that they should be “ready to give”. Being ready to give speaks of genuine generosity; the spirit that says “I see you have a need, let me meet it.” The word is literally “Liberal” or “bountiful”. Those who have wealth are not to just do the minimum; they are to meet needs beyond the minimum with a generous and unselfish heart, always remembering the sacrifice Christ made for us all on the cross. They are to give sacrificially from an open and unrestrained heart.

But even generous giving isn’t enough. The last phrase of that verse says that they should be “willing to share”. The word “share” is the word, “koinonikous” and it is the word from which you get the word, “koinonia”, the word from which comes our English word, “fellowship”. When Paul tells us that we should be willing to share, he means more than sharing our income. The word “fellowship” iomplies that we share our own hearts as well. MacARthur says:

Giving to others is not to be done in a cold, detached manner. Rather, there must be mutual care and concern arising from the common life believers share.

ILLUSTRATION

The best illustration of this is something I just wish that you could experience. You’d have to hop a jet to do it. Once you arrived in Xalapa, Mexico, you’d have to snake your way up into the mountains to the “land that time forgot.” Nestled in the lush mountain forest, you’d find a little village called Zongzolta. Just as you entered that little village, you’d find a church, not much of a building, but a wonderful congregation that knows all about being willing to share.

Back in September, we showed up for a service and the people were there. Even though they had to miss work to come on a Tuesday, they showed up and worshiped. After we were through, we walked down the village road to one of the member’s homes. It wasn’t much, but they invited us in for lunch. We had to walk down this hallway, and, in order to get into the kitchen where we were meeting, we walked under a walkway that only had a tarp over it to keep the rain out. We sat down to eat, a little unsure of what they’d bring to us. These people had very little . . . except the coffee that they picked in the fields. Yet, that day, they served us what must have been an absolute delicacy to them. They served us pork. I don’t know how often they were even able to eat pork, but that day, they sacrificed. They gave us their wealth, yes. But more importantly, they gave us themselves. You know, you don’t have to be rich to be generous and you surely don’t have to be rich to share yourself.

APPLICATION

Hey Christian, there are really two questions that you need to ask yourselves. First, are you generous? Are you looking for the minimum giving in every situation, or are you looking for the maximum. Are you “liberal” giver, even in your attitude? The Bible says that, when it comes to our wealth, we should be “ready to give.” We should be generous.

Are you generous? And then, are you personal in your giving. Do you just give your money to quiet your conscience because you’d really rather not get your hands dirty, or do you give yourself. You see, this is where the real impact takes place! When I just give my money, it is appreciated, but it may not really make an impact for God. When, however, you give yourself along with your money, you can really begin to see God leverage your money for His Glory.

Which, of course, is just what He wants to do. He wants us to leverage the wealth He gives us by avoiding the pitfalls of wealth and exploiting the opportunities of wealth. And then comes the reward! When you avoid the pitfalls and exploit the opportunities, then you can

COLLECT THE DIVIDEND

EXPLANATION:

Paul writes

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 18 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, 19 storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.

While one of them is only implied, there are two dividends mentioned in v 19: The first we’ve mentioned almost every week of this series: Being generous and willing to share leads to an eternal reward, what Paul calls here “a good foundation for the time to come.” Everything that we give to God is not a gift only; it is also an investment in the heavenly kingdom which will one day come.

But there is more than just eternal reward here. If you read the very last phrase in v 19 in the original greek, it literally reads, “that they may take hold of that which is truly life”. While the primary reference is to eternal life, I believe that Paul is also implying something about the here and now as well. Its as if Paul is saying, if you really want to know how to enjoy life; if you really want a reason to get up in the morning; if you really want joy, learn to be generous and personal in your giving. By doing this, you will grab hold of a slice of life like you never imagined. You’ll stop walking around in the dark, drab gray of your own desire, and begin to enjoy the brilliant color of a generous life that brings great joy to the heart. Yes, you do receive a heavenly reward, but the earthly reward isn’t to shabby either. The practice of an unselfish, giving heart brings a joy to the heart that cannot be duplicated by any amount of money. You take hold of life which is truly life!

APPLICATION

Let me just draw this to a close with some specific application. How can you practice this? How can you become this kind of generous person who doesn’t just throw money at problems but gets involved with them? Well let me make a few suggestions:

In the first place, find God’s opportunity. No matter your income level, I want you to know that God has opportunities out there in front of you. Some of you may need to begin tithing. You’ve been feeling guilty and making excuses, but you’ve never just turned loose and obeyed. That could be your oppotunity. Others may need to begin giving to the faith promise missions offering that we take. God has shown you that he wants you invovled, and today you may need to say yes.

And once you’ve found God’s opportunity, give generously. Be willing to really lean into the opportunity before you. Yes have a strategy; yes, make sure what you are giving is used properly. Do all those things. But when you’ve checked it out and you know its what God wants, then jump on it as hard and as fast as you can. Give generously.

And once you find God’s opportunity don’ just give generously, give personally. Do your best not to give from a distance. Get your hands dirty. Get personally involved in the giving and in the process, share what Jesus means to you and maximize your gift eternally.

So let me ask you, what are you doing with your wealth? Have you found that opportunity God wants you to exploit for His glory? Is there something so big and so full of Kingdom possibilities that you are certain God wants to use you to exploit it? If there is, are you giving generously? Are you giving personally?

Someone I know very well was recently challenged to give to a Christian college. They met with the director of Development and thought, “Well, I know he’s going to ask for money, so here’s what I’m planning to do.” Now the number he picked out to give was respectable, but not really generous. He knew what he could affort to do, and he played it pretty safe with what he kept in mind.

Finally the day arrived and the Development Director sat down and began his presentation. The college was going into a building program and they were challenging their supporters to be generous. Finally, after the usual review the value of the school the worthiness of the cause, the Director said, “Mr and Mrs so and so, we’d like you to give (and he mentioned a very substantial figure for people of their income) over the next 5 years.

This guy was blown away. He couldn’t believe the audacity of this fundraiser in asking him, a man of average means, for that kind of money. To be honest, it kind of hurt his feelings. He refused to give an answer then, but promised to call the fundraiser back with an answer the next day.

He was inclined at first not to be involved. It sort of made him mad that he would even be asked to do such a thing. But as he thought and prayed, it hit him: “It’s not my money,” he thought, “it belongs to God. This will hurt, but I really can afford it. Besides why should I hold on riches now and lose them when I die, when I can send them ahead, multiply them, and keep them forever.” He called up the Development Director and said, “Sign me up!”

VISUALIZATION:

While working as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel was assigned to report on the struggles of an impoverished, inner-city family during the weeks leading up to Christmas. A devout atheist at the time, Strobel was mildly surprised by the family's attitude in spite of their circumstances:The Delgados—60-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters, Lydia and Jenny—had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny, two-room apartment on the West Side. As I walked in, I couldn't believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls—only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. That's it. They were virtually devoid of possessions.

In fact, 11-year-old Lydia and 13-year-old Jenny owned only one short-sleeved dress each, plus one thin, gray sweater between them. When they walked the half-mile to school through the biting cold, Lydia would wear the sweater for part of the distance and then hand it to her shivering sister, who would wear it the rest of the way.

But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace.

Strobel completed his article, then moved on to more high-profile assignments. But when Christmas Eve arrived, he found his thoughts drifting back to the Delgados and their unflinching belief in God's providence. In his words: "I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation. Here was a family that had nothing but faith, and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially, but lacked faith—and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment."

In the middle of a slow news day, Strobel decided to pay a visit to the Delgados. When he arrived, he was amazed at what he saw. Readers of his article had responded to the family's need in overwhelming fashion, filling the small apartment with donations. Once inside, Strobel encountered new furniture, appliances, and rugs; a large Christmas tree and stacks of wrapped presents; bags of food; and a large selection of warm winter clothing. Readers had even donated a generous amount of cash.

But it wasn't the gifts that shocked Lee Strobel, an atheist in the middle of Christmas generosity. It was the family's response to those gifts. In his words:

As surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English: "Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do."

That blew me away! If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me. "This is wonderful; this is very good," she said, gesturing toward the largess. "We did nothing to deserve this—it's a gift from God. But," she added, "It is not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus."

To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything—more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus—because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters.

They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I only knew the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual, while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material—and something made me long for what they had.

Or, more accurately, for the One they knew

O listen! That is the REAL power of wealth. That is leveraging the power of money. That is using the power of something physical to make a spiritual impact. And, after all these messages on what real wealth is, it is this spiritual impact that is really the point. God gives us wealth not to give ourselves luxuries, but to give our lives spiritual impact. And that impact comes not when we deny the power of wealth, nor worship the power of wealth, but when we leverage the power of wealth for the glory of God.

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