Right on the Money
Right on the Money
"The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." That thought from Psalm 24:1 captures the core of our thinking on stewardship. God is the maker, and therefore, God is the owner. He owns it, we don't. But we are his stewards. We're his house managers. We're the employees to His Royalty. We're the bearers of great authority and responsibility. In fact, in his absence, we are the bearers of his image in this world.
Luke 12:48 tells us that from everyone who has been given much—and that's us—much will be demanded. From the one who's been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. All of life comes to us as a sacred trust—the world we live in, the relationships we enjoy, our time, our talents, our treasures. Because we're stewards, there's a strict accountability relationship between us and the Master. But the upshot is, there is stupendous reward for faithfulness, awesome heavenly blessing that's ours if we're faithful.
Jesus said: If you take care of a little money on this side of eternity, I'll put you in charge of cities on the other side. If you serve the world with your material possessions in the here and now, I'll put you in charge of true spiritual riches down the line. If you forego building your own Utopia on this side, I'll welcome you into the Master's eternal happiness on the other side.
If Jesus could have his say today, he might quote himself from 2,000 years ago, words recorded for us in Matthew 6:19-24:
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.
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!
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.
There is no easy coexistence between God and money. They coexist, no doubt. You walked into this room today with money in your pocket and a Bible under your arm. But if they're going to coexist rightly, there are going to have to be some strict parameters on the relationship. God is going to have to be firmly enthroned in the center of your household, and money is going to have to live out back tethered to a short leash. Eternity hangs in the balance as far as this relationship goes. Getting the interplay between God and money right is a core task for us stewards. We've got to be right on God and right on money, or we're not going to be right in eternity.
This is absolutely countercultural. This is Jesus in his prophetic office getting in the face of American Christians. Jesus is going to tell you how to get right on the money so you can enjoy eternal happiness with him forever.
We must have the right storehouse
There are three paragraphs here and three primary thoughts. The first one deals with the right storehouse. If we're going to be right on the money, we've got to have the right storehouse. Is it going to be earth, or is it going to be heaven?
The way I've been pitting God against money so far might give you the indication that money is inherently evil, which it's not. In fact, Jesus says, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Notice, he says it's not wrong to store money. He commands it in verse 20: "store up." Note that it is not all wrong to have some concern for your personal financial situation. He's not even saying it's wrong to desire treasure, to desire great wealth. He says, "Store up for yourselves treasures."
The crux of the matter is not the money; it's the storehouse where the money goes. Store it up in heaven, Jesus says. In heaven, not on earth. Not on earth and in heaven; just in heaven, period. That's what Jesus says to do.
There are three primary reasons why. First is safety. He says treasure on earth is susceptible to corruption, decay, and theft. If you store it up down here, it's going to fly out of your hands one way or the other. But money stored in heaven is safe and secure. There is no corruption in heaven. There are no thieves in heaven.
The second reason is yield. Treasure in heaven is high yield. Here in this world we like to invest money and get a 10, 15, 20, or—in a huge economic boom—30 percent return. Scripture talks about heavenly investment yielding a 30, 60, or hundredfold return. That's 3,000, 6,000, or 10,000 percent. Heaven is high yield; it's safe.
There's also a wellness issue associated with the storehouse of heaven. Verse 21 says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Hearts and treasures interact together. Initially your treasure goes where your heart goes. Let's say you have your heart set on a new car or a bigger house or a computer upgrade. Your money is going to follow your heart, no doubt. But then there's a reciprocal reaction. Your money goes that direction, and then your heart goes all the more toward that thing.
Jesus says that where your treasure is, ultimately that's where your heart is going to go. So we're going to have to lead our hearts toward heaven by investing our resources there. He's emphatic about this. He says in verse 19, "Do not store up for yourselves trea-sures on earth." That could be translated: Stop. Stop storing up for yourselves treasures on earth. Cease and desist that program right now. It's time to make a break. It's time to say enough is enough. That in itself is wise counsel as a beginning step toward good stewardship. Just stop where you are. Some of us Jesus might call to back up a little bit: You're going to have to simplify here. You have to downgrade to get into the center of my will.
But a great first step is to stop where you are. If you're living in 1,800 square feet of house right now, you don't need 2,500. If you have 2,500, you don't need 3,250. Just stop. If you've got a 700-megahertz processor, you don't need a gigahertz. You're only sending e-mail, for goodness sake. Just stop. You don't need this, that, or the other thing. Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth.
We live in a consumer economy, where the exchange of dollars drives our prosperity. Business is about the task of creating within us need and desire to consume, because if dollars stop exchanging hands, this economy will collapse. Jesus says stop. Stop sending your dollars through this consumer economy time and time again, and start storing it in heaven. Find yourself a different kind of investment vehicle: the ministry of your local church, international ministry concerns, the poor, a missionary who is raising support. Start investing in that direction. Do what Jesus says. Do it now.
Jesus' words are not only countercultural for the present moment, but also for 20, 30, or 40 years down the line, because the conventional wisdom of this world is telling us we're going to need a stack of money storehoused here if we're going to enjoy a comfortable retirement. This world is telling us we're going to be done working and still have 30 years of life left. So you're going to need a stack of money if you're going to be comfortable in that time. In fact, conventional wisdom says we need a million dollars to retire. That's the basic benchmark. Jesus says stop. You don't need to be a millionaire.
Now, the Bible elsewhere does commend saving. It does say things like: Look to the ants. Ants, in good seasons, store up for the lean times to come. There is biblical wisdom in saving. But a million dollars? We're going to rest in Jesus' care when we're 75 and 85. We're going to pray "give us this day our daily bread," just as we should be praying today. Yes, modest, reasonable saving is fine. The Bible commends it. But we don't need to play golf and enjoy our own 25-year Utopia here.
Let's say that instead of trying to build a storehouse on earth full of a million bucks, you determine to be frugal and save a bit so basic needs are taken care of—there's food on the table and a shelter over your head. But instead of banking on earth, you start giving in more radical ways toward heaven. You start in the here and now supporting ministry. And when you turn 65 or 70 you have just enough money to cover the basics. You're not going to be a world traveler. You're not going to be living in Scottsdale. You might be flipping burgers as a septuagenarian at McDonald's just to have some pocket money.
But let's say all that money you could have saved for yourself you invested in ministry. And let's say that what would have become a million dollars got the gospel to a 15-year-old girl named Grace. And let's say that investment you made in the kingdom did nothing more than get her the gospel, and she responded to it. I want to tell you something. You won't be in heaven five minutes before you'll be on your knees with your hands flung in the air, praising God, and saying, "It was worth it. How could I have ever dreamed it wouldn't have been? How could I have ever thought about playing golf for 20 years when I could get the gospel to this person? And how could I have not seen it that way from the beginning?"
As for me and my house, we are never going to save more money for the future than we give to ministry right now. We are not going to sacrifice present kingdom impact for a future on earth that has no guarantees it will ever come. We have to let the gospel speak radically to our culture, which tells us to do the opposite of what Jesus says: store up treasures on earth. Will you let Jesus speak with full force to your life?
I want you to see the thrust of his argument here. Jesus is not making an argument for morality. He's not saying if you want to be righteous you have to give to ministry, though that may well be true. His argument is not for morality; his argument is for wisdom. If you're building up treasures on earth, it's not so much that you're wicked; it's that you're stupid. That's what he's saying. Will you let the naked force of that truth impact you? We've got to have the right storehouse.
We must have the right stance
We also have to have the right stance, the right perspective, the right mental and emotional posture before money. That's what the second paragraph of this passage addresses: "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 the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" You've got to have the right posture, the right stance toward money, and it begins with perspective. It begins with vision. Our bodies go where our eyes are looking.
I'm a semi-clumsy person. I've been on the treadmills in those health clubs. They have the treadmills lined up, and they have TV's up on the wall. It's rare that you get a treadmill centered on a TV. Usually you're looking off to your left or to your right. Invariably I'm running on a treadmill and looking at a TV over to the side. And my feet start going that way. Pretty soon I hit the side of that thing. I stumble. I fall. I go red in the face. I realize my eyes are taking my body off course.
That's the thing Scripture says happens when our eyes are focused on money. First Timothy 6:10 says: "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money"— with eyes for money—"have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs."
The stance we take toward God and toward money is determined by our vision. "Good" eyes in this context means singular eyes, eyes that are focused on one object of desire, and it's Christ and his kingdom. "Bad" eyes in this context is informed by Jewish thought that says the evil eye—the bad eye—wanders from God toward things, toward possessions. The evil eye is miserly, selfish, greedy. Jesus says if you've got one of those kinds of eyes, you might think you're enlightened, but you're actually darkened. The light within you is actually darkness. You think you're smart and wise and going down the right road, and you're filling your whole life with darkness, Jesus says.
We've got to have good eyes. We've got to have the right stance here. We've got to have that steward stance that says we are soon to be evaluated for our care of the things God's put into our hands. Matthew Henry, a great Bible commentator, said, "It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day." We've got to know what's important and what's not.
The average life cycle of a dollar in the United States is 18 months. It gets exchanged so many times that it gets worn out. It's a poor store of wealth, too, even if you keep it crisp and new, because we have this thing called inflation. If you hang onto a dollar too long, it's not going to be worth a dollar any more. In a couple of years, it's not going to buy what it could buy today. So the economists of this world tell us: You have to put it to work. You have to invest this thing so it yields some return, because if you sit on this thing, it's going to lose value.
The financial planners of this world tell us: You have to think long-term with this dollar. Don't think about what it can buy today. Think about what it could yield for you 20, 30, or 50 years from now. Put it to work and don't touch it. Don't keep dipping into what you're saving long-term, and don't keep moving it around. Find a good fund and leave it there. Don't try to time the market. Don't move it around, or you're going to end up losing it.
And if we're fortunate, over time this thing is going to yield for us 10 or 15 or 20 percent, and we'll be able to golf.
I want you to envision instead investing this thing in the kingdom. Let's say there was a corporation called Jesus Christ Inc., and let's say you invested one dollar the day that company went public—Christmas Day, A.D. 0. You invested one dollar in the life and min-istry of Jesus Christ, and let's say over time it yielded modest returns of six percent interest compounded annually. Two thousand years later, you would have $720 quadrillion. I called a mortgage broker friend this week and had him do the math on it.
The financial planners of this world are not having you think long-term enough. Thirty years? Fifty years? What's going to happen in 3,000 or 5 million years? Kingdom investment continues to reap reward. We have to start acting and living like people who are going to live forever. If you bank it here, it's not going to last much beyond your lifetime.
We must have the right sovereign
Third, we have to have the right sovereign. Is it going to be money, or is it going to be God? "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." Jesus expressly states the impossibility of dual lordship. You might have dual citizenship, but you can never have dual lordship. There's only room in your heart for one. Is it going to be God, or is it going to be money?
The writing of Money with a capital letter is informative. In the original Greek New Testament, that word was Mammon, with a capital M. It's a way of personifying money. It's listing it not as a thing but as a person, as an idol, as a false deity. It's got power. It's got a pull on your life. Money has weight. Money has mass. Therefore, it exerts a gravitational pull like all objects with mass do. When you start to amass money, its gravitational pull grows stronger. Money as a medium of exchange, if used well and not hoarded, stays lowercase money. While small-m money is neutral, capital-M Money is not. It is an unruly power. If you start to stack this stuff up, it's no longer lowercase m; it's capital M. It's no longer just money; it's Mammon. It's a false god, and it starts to exert a gravitational pull on your life. You start getting drawn into its orbit, and it becomes the center of things for you and bends your will toward it to make you its slave.
How do you keep yourself from getting wrapped into the orbit of Mammon? Don't amass it. Don't stockpile it on earth. It will pull you into that gravitational field. Send it on to heaven. Invest it in kingdom ministry, and your heart is going to start getting pulled there. There's only one place where your heart can go at a time.
Do you understand why the Bible commends simplicity and frugality for Christ-followers? It's because money amassed has gravitational force. Proverbs 30:8says, "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."
Paul said to his protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 6, "We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." The Bible commends for us simple shelter, food, clothing—the basics of life. That's all the treasure we need this side. Send the rest of it on ahead so there's no gravitational pull to this world and its transient nature that will keep your heart here, so that you pass away with it. Don't let that happen.
Last month I was traveling to the Czech Republic with our international ministries, and I had a stopover in Zurich. I arrived in Zurich at 7:30 in the morning, and I didn't have a flight out until 8:30 that night. I thought, Twelve hours. Let's see what Zurich has to offer.
There were at least three famous churches to see, a couple of great museums, and some other sites worth taking in. I had planned this thing out and realized I could take a train—just a 10- or 15-minute jaunt from the airport to downtown—see everything I'd want to see within walking distance, hop on the train, and go back and catch my flight.
The only hitch is they typically don't exchange dollars in the shops in Zurich. If you're going to purchase something, you have to get some Swiss francs. I figured if I changed $80, that would be more than enough. Now, I'm not a rich man, but I have quite a bit more than $80 at my disposal. I could have taken much more money with me. In fact, some people might have the mentality to say, "Don't you want to take all your money?" I thought, "No. About 80 bucks will do me just fine." And it did.
Why did I take that tack? Because I was confident I was going to be spending one day in Zurich and 80 years in the United States. Now, if I'm going to leave most of my money in U.S. dollars because I'm one day in Zurich and 80 years in the United States, is it so differ-ent to start thinking, I'm 80 years in the United States, but I'm 80 billion in heaven? Why would I want a big stack of U.S. dollars? They're no good there.
The biblical mentality on stewardship is: Keep enough for the basics—food, shelter, clothing, and sure, a few simple treasures and pleasures. God gives us all things to enjoy. But we're only here for a short time, so send it on ahead, because that's where we'll be spending eternity.
The right storehouse, the right stance, and making sure God is the right and only sovereign. That will put us right on the money.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearer____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? ____________________________________________________
Greg Lafferty is senior pastor of Willowdale Chapel in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.