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Developing a Major Point

In this clinic we learn from the development of one major point in the sermon " Overcoming the Influence of Affluence. "

The second movement of the sermon is " Four Necessary Changes in Our Perspective If We're Going to Pursue the Good Life of God. "

Let's look in detail at subpoints A and B.

A. To fight arrogance, cultivate humility (1 Timothy 6:17a)
B. To fight materialism, cultivate godliness (1 Timothy 6:17b)

Sermon Excerpt

Here is the manuscript for these two points:

There are four changes that need to take place in our perspective and our attitudes if we're to pursue the good life.

The first one is this. In order to fight arrogance, we've got to cultivate humility. Look at the first part of verse 17. It says, " Command those who are rich not to be arrogant. "

This is Paul's advice to Timothy, the young preacher in Ephesus. Ephesus was a major center for trade and commerce, and no doubt the Ephesian church had members who had done very well in the marketplace. Paul's advice here is strong. He does not suggest to the rich, he does not tell Timothy to gently say, " I want you to consider. " He says, " Command the rich not to be arrogant. "

None of us want to be thought of as arrogant. That's a strong word. Yet it is an attitude that slowly and subtly comes over us in an affluent culture. It's part of the influence of affluence. We come to believe we deserve affluence because of our hard work, and if other people would just work hard, they could have what we have. We somehow have attained it by ourselves on our own merit, and we are entitled to bask in our affluence.

Jessie H. O'Neill has written a book entitled Golden Ghetto: Psychology of Affluence. She writes, " In the wake of our unparalleled prosperity following the Second World War, we became arrogant, taking our successes and material comforts for granted. As a nation we quickly developed the false sense of entitlement that is characteristic of affluenza. "

Humility comes only when we will acknowledge daily and sometimes hourly that we deserve no better than the poorest citizen of this planet. We cultivate humility when we follow the advice of Deuteronomy 8:18, which says, " Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. " Jesus repeatedly emphasized our dependence on God. In Matthew 6:31-33 he said, " Do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?' for the pagans run after all these things. And your heavenly Father knows you need them. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. "

This change in perspective can only happen when we say no to arrogance, when we kill the belief that I deserve this. Instead, we come to a place where we say, " God, I can't believe you're so good to me. I don't deserve this. I don't deserve the abundance with which you've blessed me, but I give thanks. And I give you the credit for bringing it my way. "

There's a second shift that has to take place. If we're going to fight off materialism, we've got to cultivate godliness. Look at the second part of verse 17. Paul tells them " not to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God. " The dictionary defines materialism as the " theory or doctrine that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life. "

None of us would say we subscribe to that philosophy, and yet our lifestyles may indicate perhaps we do on some level. As Christians we say we believe there is a higher good, a greater value. Our church's mission statement says we are increasingly to know Christ and make him known. If we are increasingly growing in our knowledge of Jesus Christ, in our relationship with Jesus Christ, then his character should over time become our character.

Look back at verse 11 in chapter 6 (1 Timothy 6:11). Speaking of the dangers of wanting to accumulate wealth, Paul tells Timothy, " But you, man of God, flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. " In 1 Timothy 4:7 he tells Timothy, " Train yourself to be godly. " In Titus 2:12 he says, " [The grace of God] teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. " Growing in godliness is perhaps the most effective way you can combat the natural tendency we all have toward materialism.

(To see the complete sermon outline, click, " Overcoming the Influence of Affluence " .)


  1. The preacher's use of the biblical text. He does a nice job of explaining, by the use of contrast, what the apostle means. Notice in the first subpoint, arrogance is contrasted with humility, and then in the second, materialism with godliness. This is not just good exegesis but also arresting homiletics because it allows the Scripture to serve as the preacher's authority.

  2. Application that promotes a biblical worldview. Look again at how subpoint A concludes:
    This change in perspective can only happen when we say no to arrogance, when we kill the belief that I deserve this. Instead, we come to a place where we say, " God, I can't believe you're so good to me. I don't deserve this. I don't deserve the abundance with which you've blessed me, but I give thanks. And I give you the credit for bringing it my way. " We're told " to say no to arrogance " and " to kill " the mentality of entitlement. This is strong language that engages the mind and challenges the will to action. The sermon goes on to picture what humility looks like. It's an attitude of looking heavenward and thanking Almighty God for the blessings we've received from his hand. Showing us what obedience looks like helps to change our thinking about possessions. One of the hallmarks of effective preaching is its ability to transform our minds.

Ways to Improve

  1. Give a straightforward definition of godliness. In subpoint B, to show the importance of godliness the preacher quotes 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:11, and Titus 2:12. But he doesn't really say what godliness is. Is it simply avoiding materialism or some other sinful behavior such as lust or drunkenness, or is it a far more inclusive and positive quality?

  2. Illustrate godliness in financial dealings. The audience knows materialism is bad, but how is godliness better? Perhaps a biblical illustration, such as a contrast of the greed of Judas with the faithfulness of John in the last days of Jesus (John 12:4-6; John 19:26-27), could make this more poignant for listeners.

  3. Simplify. The previous suggestions demonstrate an inherent problem with this sermon. Its strength — the excellent exposition of the biblical passage in movement 2 — becomes part of its weakness because the sermon tries to give too much content. With three main movements, each with at least four subpoints, the sermon overwhelms the audience. There is simply not enough time in a 30 minute sermon to explain and illustrate adequately, let alone apply, all the ideas in this message. The congregation unconsciously screams for the preacher to stop, or simply tunes him out like media overload.

    My suggestion is to delete one of the major movements and some of the subpoints, particularly in movement one (Myths about the American Dream). Even better, make two or three sermons out of this one! The significance of this sermon and the importance of all its content begs for more time. Give this good material in smaller portions so that, rather than hitting listeners with a homiletical fire hose, each well-developed idea can transform us by the Spirit into more Christlike people.

Scott Wenig is associate professor of applied theology at Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, and author of Straightening the Altars.

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