A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 05/14/1995
The American people may be the most interested in accumulating and using wealth of any people in the world. There are people who actually spend their leisure time reading magazines like The Wall Street Journal or Changing Times. Even the Evangelical world has spawned Christian financial advisers like Gary North and Larry Burkett. Therefore, we should be most interested in what Jesus had to say about the topic--if we can stand it! Here a request from the crowd spurs Jesus to enunciate the principles and practice of a Christian approach to money.I. THE PETITION (vs. 13-14)
And someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!" But he said to him, "Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?" I want you to look back to the passage we read last week and see the seriousness of the discussion that is going on here. Fear the One who can throw you into Hell; those who deny me before men, I will deny them before the angels; blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. This is pretty heavy stuff! And into the midst of this conversation, somebody says, "Tell my brother to share!" It sounds like two kids fighting: "Mom! He's on my side of the room again!" The contrast helps to explain the severity of Jesus' reaction. You can hear his exasperation when he shoots back, "Man . . ." It is as close as Jesus ever came to being rude. And what does he mean by this question, "who made me a judge over you?" We know from many passages that Jesus taught that the Father had committed judgment into his hands. What his question calls into question is not Jesus' authority but the man's motives. Why does he want Jesus to be a judge or arbiter in the first place? The word translated "arbiter" literally means "divider"--a divider of the inheritance. And so the next question we must ask is why the apportioning of this inheritance was an issue. Jewish custom dictated that the property be divided equally amongst the children, with the oldest son receiving a double portion because of his responsibilities as new head of the family under primogeniture. Presumably this fellow has not been cut out of the will at all, but has gotten just what he is supposed to get. His brother is probably the eldest son, who is therefore in a position possibly to do him some special favor, but has declined, perhaps because he knows his younger brother is a greedy wastrel. This of course is speculation, but it is reasonable to believe that something like it lies behind the Lord's reaction, for he responds to this man as to one who is in fact greedy, who values money more than his relationship with his brother. Therefore, to turn this moment into a teaching opportunity, Jesus gives us the parable of the rich man who wanted bigger barns.II. THE PRINCIPLES A. Property comes from God and depends on God.
The first principle is that God is the source of whatever wealth we have, and needs to be recognized and honored as such. In vs. 16, the reason for the man's prosperity is not his skill as a farmer or his fine business sense, but the fact that his land was productive. Especially to the Jewish mind, focused as it was on the Land that God had given them, this is a clear indication that the rich man's bumper crop is a gift from God. Nevertheless, he treats it as something he has earned and therefore has the right to dispose of as he wishes. The fact that he is wealthy is not the problem, for God has given him his wealth; it is a gift, a blessing from God. Look at Deuteronomy 8:7-18. The Lord is bringing you into a good land, a land of wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive oil in which you will eat food without scarcity. So when you have eaten and are satisfied, bless God. But beware lest your heart becomes proud and you say, "My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth" (vs. 17) If you do not remember that it is God who is "giving you power to make wealth" (vs. 18), then he may take it away. And that is exactly where this rich man in the parable is. The problem is not his wealth, but his attitude toward it: his tendency to take credit for it and to spend it all on himself.
Property comes from God and our enjoyment of it depends on God. Surely one lesson we should take from this is that we should not take our jobs--or the health which allows us to work--for granted. If your security is there, instead of in your heavenly Father who feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies, then you are guilty of idolatry. Do not say, "But I have disability insurance." Do not dare God to prove to you that you are dependent on him alone! For surely he can arrange to do so.B. Property belongs to God, and is therefore on loan from him.
The rich man thought he owned his vast wealth, but he could not even call his own life his own. It was required of him that very night. The world that is translated "required" is actually a technical term for the repayment of a loan. Well, if even my very life is on loan from God, then surely everything I have accumulated has the same status. James Dobson once said that life is like a Monopoly Game. No matter how many houses and hotels you have on Boardwalk and Park Place, at the end of the game it all goes back in the box. Chuck Swindoll says he has never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer. And so God in the parable asks, rhetorically, now who will own all this stuff? The answer is not really the man's heirs (though he had not considered even that!); it is ultimately the same person who really owned it all along, God himself.
All the rich man's goods, all his bigger barns, go back into the box. You see, dead men cannot own property. Well, you say, but we are still alive. Really? Are not all men already under sentence of death? The wages of sin is death! Now, the only reason that sentence is not carried out on the Christian is because of Christ's death in his place on the Cross. Alright, then, how is it that you even have the use of your own body, much less of your stuff? Who is alive and therefore capable of owning anything? The life we live in the flesh, we live by faith in Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. We are dead, and we only live because of him. Therefore everything you are, and also everything you "own," is all Christ's gift to you, given to you to use for him, because he has purchased it with his blood! As Smuts Van Rooyen says, whenever I look at my house, my car, my wife, or my own body, I see the Cross of Christ stamped on it. He has bought it with his blood. It is really his.
This of course is what we usually call the doctrine of Stewardship. God owns everything in the universe, including me and my "property." What I call my property is his property, loaned to me to manage for his benefit according to his instructions. For that's what a steward is: one who manages the property of another for the benefit of the owner. God has made each of us responsible for a little chunk of his world. He wants us to use it to take care of our family; he wants us to enjoy it; he wants us to take care of it and not waste it; and he also wants us to be using it for the good of his people and the spread of the Gospel and the advancement of his kingdom. We will give an account for what we have done with the wealth he has entrusted us with. There is of course not one hint of this awareness in the rich man of the parable--and that was precisely his problem.
As Christians we need to cultivate this awareness in our minds, for it will not be there by chance or by nature. The issue is not how much we have, but how we think about what we do have. So we should ask ourselves things like, "How often does God want me to change the oil in his car? Whom does he want hauled around in his car? Where? Hmm, this is God's money. How much of it does he want to give to the Church? How much of it does he want to save? Does he want the stuff that I am about to spend the rest of it on? If you start thinking that way, it will radically change your life! And you will not end up like the rich man in the parable.C. Anyone who does not realize that property comes from God and belongs to God is a fool.
The third principle does not need much explanation. The parable does a better job of making the point than I could. But let us not miss the point. To live as if you own what you do not in fact own is not to live in accordance with reality. It may be the short route to physical poverty; it is definitely the short route to poverty of spirit; and if we do not repent, it will certainly be the short route to eternal loss. Whether Christ succeeded in turning the man with the question aside from his folly we are not told. Whether he will succeed in turning us aside from ours is now up to us.III. THE PRACTICE
We have already seen some practical application of the principles of finance that Jesus teaches here. There are three other such points that Jesus makes in following up the parable itself.A. Don't worry! (vs. 22).
"And he said to his disciples, 'For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, nor for your body, as to what you shall put on.'" This is one of those delicious ironies in which Scripture abounds. We cling to our money because we want security; but the real path to security is to release it back to God. You see, the fool depends on himself, his intelligence, his marketable skills, his continued health. He also depends on the continued health of the stock market and the economy. If your economic security lies there, you are a fool! For none of it is guaranteed. But the Christian, who owns nothing but has everything in trust from God, is cared for by his heavenly Father, who takes pretty good care of ravens and lilies and loves the Christian infinitely more than them. He loves the Christian with a love that can only be measured by the Cross! Therefore, the believer is free to give, not irresponsibly, but joyfully and without fear. "Sell your possessions and give to charity. Make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys" (vs. 33). He is free because he cares and because he trusts. There is great security in owning nothing and trusting in God. There is none in owning a bumper crop and trusting in bigger barns.B. Do work (vs. 31).
We do not need to worry; but that does not mean we do not need to work. "But seek for his kingdom, and these things shall be added to you." To seek Christ's kingdom is to work for his glory, his honor, and his dominion in all that you do. What a paltry, insignificant, and boring thing it must be by contrast to work for mere money! One of my great heroes is Johan Sebastian Bach. He is recognized by many as the greatest composer who has ever lived. He wrote some of the greatest sacred music ever composed for the church and its worship (i.e., "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring"), and he also wrote many secular compositions (i.e., the Brandenburg Concertos). And he treated them all the same. On every piece of music he wrote, sacred or secular, he started at the top of the first page with the Latin abbreviation "J. J.," for Jesu juva, "Jesus, help me." And at the bottom of the last page he wrote "S. D. G.," Soli Deo Gloria, "Glory to God alone."
Like Bach, the Christian works for the glory of God. I'd like to see Christian carpenters carve "S. D. G." into one of two by fours in the wall of the house they are building--after building it so well that they can do so without hypocrisy, of course! What do you do for a living? "I build houses for the glory of God." "I preach sermons for the glory of God." "I teach school for the glory of God." "I design airplanes for the glory of God." "I catch speeders for the glory of God." "I fry hamburgers for the glory of God." "I wait tables for the glory of God." "I balance books for the glory of God." "I do __________ for the glory of God and as a service to him and to the people he made." If you can't take what you do and plug it into a sentence that ends that way, don't do it!
Now, let us not forget the last part of vs. 31. We seek his kingdom, and all these things will be added to us. What things? The things we have been talking about that God gives the ravens and the lilies, things like food and clothing that he knows we need. Christians do not work for money or for things. We work for the glory of God. And in the process--normally through that very work--he will take care of us, he will provide for our needs. He normally does it as a byproduct of our work; that is true. But it makes every difference whether we conceive that provision as a byproduct or the main thing.
Do you understand the freedom, the exhilaration, that comes with this mentality? To work for money is to become a slave to the rat race and condemn yourself to boredom, frustration, and futility. It is foolishness. To work for the glory of God and trust him to take care of you is to serve a much kinder Master and experience true freedom, fulfillment, and happiness. This is wisdom. And it is the birthright of every child of God through faith in Jesus Christ.C. Guard your priorities (vs. 34).
A third practical outcome of Jesus' principles is the need to guard our priorities. He stresses this when he says, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." In order for us to manage Christ's property for him, we have to have the right priorities. We have to value his kingdom over all these things. This works both ways. Your heart will tell you where to put your treasure. But if you have invested it thoughtlessly, the heart will tend to follow the treasure, too. Either way, they are going to end up together. Therefore, let us invest the Lord's resources where they ought to be, so that our hearts will be there too. Then nothing will stand in the way of our hearing, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master."CONCLUSION
Do you hear what Jesus is saying here? He says to each of us, in the midst of our greedy and materialistic society, "Don't be a fool!" Not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions. Are you afraid to trust God to take care of you so that you are free to live and work for his glory? Be of good cheer! " Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom" (vs. 32). Oh, let us seek his kingdom and his righteousness, so that all these things may be added to us.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams