In February 1999 when I sold my company, all of a sudden I had more money than I had ever expected to have. What was I supposed to do with this sudden wealth?
I remember waking up the first morning after the sale of the company and the wonderful feeling of freedom I had because I did not have to commute to work. With nothing to do, I drove to the market, passing all the other people heading to work and it felt great.
With the time available to me, I sat down and began to read all the verses in the Bible that mentioned money, wealth, riches, and possessions. I wanted to know how I was supposed to use this gift God had given me. So I read 111 verses that mentioned money, 117 verses that mentioned wealth, 145 verses that mentioned riches, and 230 verses that mentioned possessions. I studied these verses, wanting to learn what the Bible had to say about what I now had a lot of.
At the end of that year, rather than getting another job and adding to my wealth, I headed to Rabat and began to spend it, supporting myself as pastor of RIC. Ten years later, because I lost one third of what I had in the fall of the US stock market and because of the dramatic drop in the value of the US dollar, my financial advisor told me I had to either come back to the US and get a job or begin raising funds to support myself. So I began my yearly trips to the US where I visit churches and friends who support me.
I have thought a lot about money and possessions over the years and want to share with you some of what I have learned this morning.
Let me begin with a a little experiment. In one hand I have a lighted match. Now in the other hand I have a piece of paper. What will happen if I put them together? [paper burns up]
How did you feel as I did this? What were you thinking? Did you have any strong emotions as I burned the paper?
Now I can take another match, light it and pull out another piece of paper. But this time the paper is a 200 dirham note. As I prepare to burn this piece of paper, are you feeling or thinking anything different than you did when I burned the piece of paper just a moment ago?
This leads to the first of six lessons about money.
1. Money has power. It can make you feel powerful emotions
Money makes people do things they would not do otherwise. Ask for a volunteer to stand up and make a fool of himself in front of a crowd and you will get few if any offers. Offer enough money and people will line up for blocks begging for the opportunity to make fools of themselves.
Money makes people take risks, risking even their lives, for the sake of getting a bit of it. Invite someone to sail out into the Mediterranean or the Atlantic at night in a small, leaky rubber dinghy and he will laugh at you. But put out the hope that you can get to Europe and earn some money and people will beg, borrow and steal to get enough money to pay for the trip.
Money has power. Money has the power to break up families and destroy relationships. Money has the power to make us break the law by stealing and cheating. Money has power.
But what I have just been saying is not exactly true. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy his advice is not that money is the root of all evil but: (I Timothy 6:11)
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
It is not money that has power, it is our love of money, our lust for money, our desire to have money that has such power and does the things I just mentioned.
2. Money is not good or bad, it is simply the coin of the realm. Money can be used for good or evil purposes.
Money built and repaired the temple. Money was used to feed the Levites. Money was collected by the Gentile churches to feed the poor of Jerusalem. But money was also used to pay Judas. And it was because of the love of money that Ananias and Sapphira were struck down dead as recorded early in the book of Acts.
Some people have a lot of money and some people have very little money. Money does not make the one who has a lot of it smarter or wiser and not all smart and wise people are rich. The one who has a lot of money is not happier or more content than the one who has just a little money.
There are Christians with a lot of money and Christians with very little money. Having money does not make one Christian more blessed by God than the one with little money. God’s blessing in someone’s life cannot be measured by the money and possessions he or she has.
You can’t tell a lot about the faith of a person by how much or how little that person has in money and possessions.
Money is neutral. It is nothing more than the coin of this realm.
3. Money is dangerous and ought to be handled with caution.
We handle guns with caution because we know how dangerous they are. If I handed you a stick of dynamite or a hand grenade, you would treat it respectfully because you know how much damage an explosive can cause. The New Testament teaches that money is equally dangerous.
In the Christian New Testament Jesus talks much about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables are concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses deal directly with the subject of money. The Christian New Testament offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions.
Why do you think this is so? Of all the things to talk about, why do you think Jesus spent so much time talking about money and possessions? And when he spoke about money and possessions, why do you think most times he spoke to warn of the dangers of money and possessions?
Matthew 6:24 in the Sermon on the Mount
“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.
Matthew 13:22 in the Parable of the Sower
The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
Matthew 19:21-24 in Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Jesus warns us over and over again in Scripture about the danger of money, wealth and possessions, not because money is bad but because our love of money pulls us away from God. Wealth is dangerous not because it is bad in itself but because it pulls us away from what really matters.
I have a friend who was a gifted leader in the church. His story of walking with Jesus was powerful. Several times he faced great difficulties and held on to Jesus despite the temptation to walk away from his faith.
He is a gifted entrepreneur and I encouraged him to pursue business and work as a lay-leader in the church. I thought he could be a great example to others in the church that they did not have to be full-time pastors to serve Jesus in this country. But I told him that there was danger in this. I told him that he needed to have people pray for him as he went into business, just as he needed people to pray for him when he worked in ministry.
Unfortunately, the love of money overtook him and he began, bit by bit, to lose his passion for Jesus and he is now far removed from ministry. His story is not over and I continue to pray for him to recover his first love, but he illustrates the dangers of wealth.
How does wealth pull us away from what really matters?
4. It pulls us away from God by tempting us to put our trust and security in our money and possessions.
“Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 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.
The writer of this proverb points out that it doesn’t matter whether you have a lot or a little money. In either case, you can be pulled away from God.
Let’s say you have a lot of money. You have stocks and bonds and savings accounts and real estate investments. You have a couple houses and several cars and every day more money pours into your bank accounts. Where is the danger? Here is the danger.
If you don’t have these things and you need a car or you need money for rent or food, what do you do? Well in addition to continuing to work hard and trying to save money for what you need, you pray to God and tell him what you need. You pray that if this is indeed what you need, he will provide for you. Perhaps some extra work will come your way. Perhaps a long lost relative will send you some money. Who knows how God will provide for you. But because you are in need and don’t have the resources yourself, you have to trust that God will take care of you and provide you with what you need.
What happens if you have lots of money in the bank? If you have an accident and your car is ruined, you go that day or the next and buy another one. If your house burns down, you simply move into a suite at a hotel and wait for the next house to be built or bought. When you have lots of money in the bank, when do you have to trust in God? When do you need to rely on God and trust that God will provide for what you need?
You begin to think that there is no problem you face that you cannot buy your way out of. Even aging, illness and injury can be treated with the best doctors and medicine money can buy. Money becomes your security. The use of your money becomes the answer to every need in your life.
If you need love, you go out and buy it. If your son or daughter is unhappy, you take them on a grand vacation or buy them a new car. If you are getting older, you buy a new young wife or husband.
Wealth becomes your god in which you trust.
There was a man from India who attended RIC some years ago. He worked for the Emiratis who have palaces in Morocco. He received word that his wife and son were being threatened by other family members. The house they lived in was going to be taken away from them. He went to his employers asking for his passport so he could go back home to protect his family but they refused to let him go.
So he stayed here and he prayed. We met and prayed with him and after some time, the situation was resolved and his wife and son were safe.
I admired the deep faith of this friend and realized that his faith came from having to trust in God. If I had faced a similar situation, I would have flown home, hired a lawyer, and taken care of the situation. I put my trust in my resources that allow me to fix things; my friend put his trust in God to take care of him.
On the other hand, Proverbs 30:7-9 points out that not having lots of money is no protection. If you have too little money, you may find yourself thinking all the time about the money you wish you had. You may spend all your time fantasizing what you would do if you got your hands on a million dollars or euros. You may spend all your time thinking about how much you need a car and what kind of car you want. Or how much you need a TV and stereo and washing machine and dryer and on and on. You become consumed with the desire to have money and possessions. You may not be able to buy happiness but you can fantasize about the happiness you would have if only you could buy it.
When you have very little money, the temptation is to do things you know you should not do in the hope that you will get the things you long for. So you may steal. You may lie a bit when you file for an insurance claim. You may bend the truth when you report your income so you pay less tax. You may not return a wallet you find on the street to its rightful owner.
Having lots of money tempts us to put our trust in our money rather than God. Having too little money tempts us to disobey God as we pursue our love of money and possessions.
You can lust for the money you have or you can lust for the money you wish you had. It makes no difference. It is, once again, a matter of the heart. Hear the warnings of Jesus.
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Jesus said, Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
5. The love of money pulls us away from God by making us think we can buy what money cannot buy.
What is it that people most want? People want to be happy. They want to be content.
Even when people fantasize, if you analyze the fantasy, happiness and contentment is what they want. Let’s say the fantasy is to own a yacht that cruises the Mediterranean Sea. Why is this a fantasy? Because the person fantasizing thinks that if he or she had that yacht, then he or she would be happy and content.
If the fantasy is to walk down the streets of Paris wearing expensive clothes with a girlfriend or boyfriend on the arm and eat out in restaurants, the assumption is that having those things would result in happiness and contentment.
So people pursue wealth thinking, “If I can only get a good job, then I will be satisfied.” “If I only had a car and a house to live in, then I would be happy.” “ If I could win the lottery, then my problems would be over.” “If I were a movie star, then I’d have it made.” “If I had enough money to travel wherever I wanted, then I’d be set.”
And so people set their goal to be rich or famous and the most miserable of these are the ones who make it and discover that being rich or famous does not bring the happiness or contentment they were seeking.
When the movie Blackhawk Down was being filmed in Rabat, we got to know some of the people involved in making the movie. One woman working on the film began to come to RIC and gave her life to Christ. She was so impressed by the quality of life in the people of our fellowship. She knew very well some of the actors and actresses people so much worship and envy. They lived glamorous lives, traveling from luxurious hotel to luxurious house but behind the glamour was unhappiness and deep neediness. She told me that the world wants to be like these actors and actresses, but what the world needs and what these actors and actresses are missing, is what she observed people in our church had, people who were not quite as glamorous, as these idolized actors and actresses.
Part of what led her to give her life to God was seeing the peace and contentment in the lives of people of our church. She found in God what she had been looking for.
6. The love of money pulls us away from God because it puts our energy and passion into what cannot satisfy.
Solomon, three thousand years ago, experienced the emptiness of this world’s pleasure: (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my work,
and this was the reward for all my labor.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Money buys a lot of things. Money buys expensive cars and elaborate vacations. Money buys good schooling. Money buys your way out of trouble with the law. Money buys good medical care. Money buys people who will be your friends as long as you have money. Money buys clothes and jewelry and whatever you want when you go on a shopping expedition.
But money cannot buy contentment. It cannot buy love. It cannot buy happiness. It cannot buy peace.
Of all our needs, the deepest need we have is to be loved and be at peace with God. Can money help with this?
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
At first and perhaps second and third glance, this verse seems strange. What is the connection between the first half Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have and the second half because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
Why keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have? Because God’s promise “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” is such a great promise, the promise from God that meets our deepest need. In light of that promise, concern for the money and possessions of this world become insignificant in the light of this promise.
How much would you be willing to pay to hear the God of the universe make that promise to you?
No matter how much money and possessions we have, we will all, one day, die. How much would you be willing to pay to hear from God, when you die and arrive in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
This morning we celebrate communion, the meal Jesus instructed us to eat when we gather. We do so to remember that God gave us, as a free gift, eternal life with him. We remember Christ who died on the cross in our place, who died so that we could live.
What we most want and most need cannot be bought with money. What we long for in the deepest part of our being comes as a free gift from God.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
That is the invitation that is given to us.
Next week we will talk about tithing, our giving to God. But this morning’s sermon is the foundation on which a discussion of our giving rests.
What we most desperately need cannot be bought with money and we find comfort and strength when we seek answers to our problems, not by fantasizing what we could do if we had more money, but by looking to the one who invites us to his table.