Our culture has now begun the countdown to Christmas. It's a mere 26 days away! And the message we hear from almost every sector is: Get busy buying!!
This 'thought' does not specifically address Christmas, but it does deal with an issue (because of our culture) that's been forced upon Christmas -- the holiday as a way to spur the economy and generate wealth. Christmas, whether we like it or not, is now one of the primary economic indicators in the American year. A "good" Christmas is often said to be one where people are willing to spend and buy or part with their wealth. Jesus may be taken out of the celebration, and the carols that proclaim the true reason for the holiday are more and more suppressed, but I can pretty much guarantee you that as long as money can be made from observing that day, Christmas will never be done away with! In fact, it seems that every year our culture tries to start the celebration earlier and earlier!
That said, I wanted to share an excerpt from the book, "Set Apart -- Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life," by R. Kent Hughes. He was pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the classes I took with him when studying for my doctorate. This thought will probably not be one of the most popular I have posted. Why? Because it addresses (I believe very accurately) the Bible's view on wealth. If you disagree (and surely some will) please look at the references he quotes and check to see if he was true to them in their context. The topic of "wealth," of course, had to be addressed in his book, because it really does contribute to the worldliness and spiritual apathy of the Church. Read the Old Testament and you will see that some of the times the people of God strayed the most from their God were the times they prospered most. And if nothing else, consider what our Lord Jesus says about this topic as we approach the day set aside to honor His incarnation. Enjoy.
"Tellingly, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, spoke more about money than about heaven or hell, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Gospel of Luke... From beginning to end...Jesus views wealth as a spiritual handicap. His "woe" to the rich, his parable of the rich fool, his epigram "you cannot serve both God and money," his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, his declaration that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, and finally, the salvation of Zacchaeus who responded by divesting himself of his riches -- all testify that material wealth is a spiritual hindrance. The evidence is that every time Jesus offers an opinion about riches, it is negative. Each time he teaches on wealth, he advises giving it away. For those of us who take the Bible seriously, this raises great tensions -- sanctifying tensions.
The Benefits of WealthThe fact that wealth is a spiritual danger in no way suggests that money is evil. Many of the Old Testament greats were well-heeled, including Abraham, Job, David, and Solomon. And the same was true of some of Jesus followers, such as Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Zacchaeus. Jesus' ministry was supported by wealthy women (Luke 8:2-3). Paul set the record straight in his explanation to Timothy: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." (I Timothy 6:10). Randy Alcorn summarizes, "Money makes a good servant to those who have the right master, but it makes a terrible master itself... Money may be temporarily under my control, but I must always regard it as a wild beast, with power to turn on me and others if I drop my guard"... Alan Emery, one of the founding partners of ServiceMaster, said that possessions become either idols or tools. And he has used his immense wealth as a tool to serve God, underwriting hundreds of ministries and repeatedly refreshing the saints. A. W. Tozer, in a remarkable essay entitled, "The Transmutation of Wealth," put it this way: "Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality."
The Dangers of Wealth
Yet the downside of wealth is well-documented. It can be delusive, idolatrous and damning... Riches can delude us into imagining that moral superiority is a matter pf homes and cars and yachts and designer labels. Timex and Rolex both end in 'ex', but the wearer of one can imagine a universe of superiority above the other.... Though money is neutral in itself, if your heart is not devoted to God, it can take on what Phillip Yancey describes as, "an irrational, almost magical power... It is a force with a personality. It is in truth, a god, and Jesus called it that." And, of course, the delusive and idolatrous powers of wealth intensify its capability to damn the soul. The deceitfulness of riches choke out the Word (Mark 4:19). The god of riches instills pride and independence and anesthetizes the victim so that he or she feels no need. As Jesus charged the lukewarm church of Laodicea, "For you say I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Such inflated spirits never get into the kingdom, and really do not care.
Since wealth is so spiritually radioactive, a crucial question is how to handle it. And the answer begins by understanding that money doesn't belong to you. Kenneth Kantzer once said: "We must give up all our wealth. We must own nothing. We are only stewards of what God owns. The point is not that we must be merely WILLING to give it up, and then live like anyone else. Rather, we must actually give it up. We are to abandon completely any claims to the wealth of this world. It is not our own, and we do not have ultimate control over it."
Along with this understanding that our money is not our own, we must give it away joyfully. Theologian Jacques Ellul says that the only way to defeat the godlike power that money seeks to impose on our lives is to give it away, which he calls profaning it: "To profane money, like all other powers, is to take away its sacred character." This destroys its power over us. "Giving to God is the act of profanation par excellence," says Ellul. Every time I give, I declare that money does not control me. Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money. When you give generously and regularly, it frees you from the bondage of money and declares that it is not a god in your life.
You can, of course, talk until the moon stands still about what is the proper lifestyle for a member of your church, and the result would be an orgy of judgmentalism. And if we came up with a written description, it would entrench a grace-nullifying legalism. Yet Paul minced no words with Timothy: "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." This is the way to live -- give, give, give! "
Money is one of those Bible topics people like to be taught on least -- especially by Jesus! For Hughes is right, "The evidence is that every time Jesus offers an opinion about riches, it is negative. Each time he teaches on wealth, he advises giving it away. For those of us who take the Bible seriously, this raises great tensions -- sanctifying tensions." In my church growing up, you could pretty much guarantee that "Stewardship Sunday" (when the pastor spoke on giving and the needs of the church) would be one of the least-well-attended Sundays of the year! Part of their mistake was announcing it was going to be Stewardship Sunday! It's a sensitive topic in our materialistic culture, and those who like wealth will not like hearing Jesus speak so negatively about it.
The sad thing is that even people who worry themselves sick over the dangers of carcinogenics in their food, and are careful to avoid even the slightest possibility that any such contaminated product will ever touch their lips, don't give a second thought to the dangers of the spiritual carcinogens which wealth infects their soul with on a day in and day out basis.
So how can you know if money is a "god" for you? You can get a good idea if while you read this thought you got defensive, were thinking of excuses not to do what he said, wanted to prove him wrong, enjoy getting far more than giving, or have a hard time bringing yourself to give joyfully, generously, and regularly.
Just a little food for thought! In His Service, Pastor Jeff