For the month of January, we’ve been talking about “*Being Rich (in what matters most)”. There is a lot of scripture that we could be using to talk about wealth and how God wants believing people to live, both as individuals and as people who are gathered together to be the church of Jesus Christ.
For typical American Christians, it all means that there is good news and bad news. The good news is that we are rich, compared to more than 99% of the rest of the world. The bad news is that we are rich. The strange effect that this has on us is that most of us think we don’t have enough, and the more we have, the more we are likely to hold back, and the less we contribute to the good of others.
In the kingdom of God, being rich has more to do with what you give away, more than it has to do with what you earn, or have, or save up. Being rich in God’s eyes means first, sharing your faith with others – all of us creating a community where faith is shared (God is glorified) – and then making sure everyone is okay, that everyone has what they need to live without worry. When God first sent the Spirit to create the church (Acts 2), their first impulse was to give, to share their wealth. God was being glorified through the love they were showing to each other.
There was a young man named Timothy who was pastoring a church in the wealthy city of Ephesus. We heard Paul say to him…
1 Timothy 6:17-19. 17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be [arrogant], or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,19thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.
Command those who are rich. Who is rich? We are. Command them…
“…to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.” (v. 18)
We are not saved by good works (as if we could earn God’s love); we are saved for good works, because we have God’s love living in us and it needs to find a way out! Faith finds its fulfillment in giving, in making a difference for others.
God wants us to be rich – in the right way. If we’re not careful, we can become rich in the wrong way, like the guy Jesus talks about in this story….
Luke 12:13-21. 13Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. [remember – when Jesus talks about rich folks, he’s talking about us] 17And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’
Do you remember where Jesus was born? In a stable, right? And that stable was most likely a cave under the inn where there was no room for them. Some people in villages had an area for animals and storage on the “first floor” of their houses and they lived above. So, having a free-standing barn for storing crops would have been a pretty big deal. Storage buildings were made mostly of stone and only the very wealthy had them. The stone barns that we have around PA – like the one above – would have been a sign of incredible wealth. This farmer already has barns; he tears them down to build bigger ones. It’s a ridiculous image. In a time and place where many people need what he’s producing – mainly food, he’s keeping it for himself. He isn’t even trying to sell it. He thinks that he’s supposed to keep all the blessings God has given him. Save for that rainy day, right?
What would have made him rich toward God? To let go. To get his hand off the cookie in the jar. To be looking around to see who needs what he’s got and finding a way to be share, to be rich in good works done for others. It’s pretty simple. Protecting his wealth is only hurting him.
There is another story in scripture about someone who did it the right way. Remember Joseph? Technicolor dreamcoat? The beginning of the story is not a happy one. Joseph is a pretty arrogant, selfish young guy. He is kidnapped by his own brothers and sold off as a slave, but eventually becomes the right hand man of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. (Genesis 47) He stores up food for a time of famine – which God helped him see coming – and then made sure everyone had enough. Because he found a way to share, God brought him back together with his estranged family. The sharing of savings became part of our own salvation story. You can say that we are here because of the sharing that’s happened over many centuries. And now it’s our turn.
God’s kingdom is all about relationships, between each of us and God, between each other. Loving God and loving the neighbor, especially if the neighbor is not like you, especially if the neighbor has needs, that is the investment plan in God’s kingdom. Find ways to do those things and you are well on your way toward untold wealth. When we do what we are called to do, God richly provides.
For us, Jesus has something to say about our lifestyles and our lifestyle together. What are you keeping in your barn? As a church, what are we keeping in our barn? What are we storing up for ourselves? What do we have that everybody needs? Let’s be rich toward God.
O God, clear our minds and our hearts of the clutter and the junk that keeps us from seeing you and seeing each other. Teach us about possessions and wealth. Help us love you with a deeper love, and through your Spirit, help us understand who and what is important to you.
We thank you for your care for us, especially for the riches that come from our faith in you – a church family that cares, and a growing sense of purpose in following you, in following Jesus. Help us live out our prayers in real ways; make us living expressions of your love on Main Street and in our world. Amen.
[*Note – This series, “Being Rich (in what matters most)”, is based on sermons given by Craig Groeschel, the Pastor of LifeChurch, Edmund, OK (http://www.lifechurch.tv/okc/) When I quote him, or use words that may be close to his, they will be in blue.]