Today we start a five-week series on money called “Money Talks.” Someone said, “Money talks: mine is always saying, ‘Bye-bye!’” Money talks—we use that phrase to mean that money has power and influence. Money talks…and one of the things it says is, “serve me.” Of all the things money says, this is the most dangerous, and today we’ll see why.
Offering and announcements:
Why would a church talk about money? Because God does, a lot—over 2000 verses in the Bible, and many of Jesus’ parables are about money and possessions. And what does God say? Most people think they know what God says about money—they can summarize it in one word: give! Usually when churches talk about money, they talk only about giving. But God talks about much more than giving; giving is only one thing we do with money. We also earn it, spend it, and save it; and God has lots to say about all those, and most importantly about our hearts.
The gospel, the good news, is that God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us. He has come to our rescue, reconciling us to Himself, redeeming us and giving us a new life in Christ. We become new creatures in Christ—the old is gone, the new has come. This is true of every part of our lives. He rescues all of me. He redeems every part of my life, including my money and stuff. All that I am and have is saved, redeemed, transformed, and becomes His.
ILL: There is a legend that when Constantine was converted, he required all of his soldiers to convert, and marched them into a river in a mass baptism. But he also required them to hold their swords over their heads, so their swords weren’t baptized. They might belong to God, but their swords belonged to Constantine.
Imagine someone getting baptized at Life Center and holding their wallet or purse up. “God, you can everything…except this. My money, my stuff belongs to me.” Crazy.
So let’s see what God says about money, and let’s baptize our money and stuff. Let’s allow God to save all of us, including this very important part of us.
Is money important? It is if you like to eat! Money is important. Let me give you three reasons why you need money:
1. You need money to provide for current needs. We’ve got to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Next weekend we’ll talk about spending money to meet our current needs; and in 3 weeks we’ll talk about freeing money from debt.
2. You need money to provide for future needs. How many of you have been doing fine financially until the car died, the washer went out and the kids all got sick? In two weeks we’ll talk about saving and investing money to provide for future needs.
3. You need money to provide for others’ needs. Ephesians 4:28 commands us to work so that we may have “something to share with those in need.” In the final week, we’ll talk about giving money to provide for others’ needs.
Money is important! But one of the things the Bible clearly says is that money is not the most important thing.
Mark 12:28-31 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
What is most important? To love God with all you’ve got and to love people. Jesus was very clear that this is the most important thing in life. You can pile up money and things, but if you don’t love God and people, you are poor in what matters. Money is important, but God is more important; people are more important. Money is important, but it can’t be your god.
And this is the problem, because when Money talks, the first and loudest thing it says is, “Serve me.” Or “Love me.”
1. Money talks: it says “serve me”.
In one sense, money is neutral; it is neither good nor bad. It is a tool. We’ll talk about that later.
But in another sense, money is not neutral at all. Money is dangerous and seductive. Money talks: it says, “serve me, love me”. Money talks; it has power, and God warns us about this.
Matthew 6:24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Money talks: it says, “serve me.” Money can be a god that competes for our allegiance.
But Jesus says that no one can serve two masters. No one can worship two gods. You can give your ultimate allegiance to only one, not two. Everyone has something that is most important and at the top of his values pyramid. But there is only room at the top for one.
ILL: Every wife understands this, don’t you? Ladies, as far as you’re concerned, how many women can your man love? One! There’s only room at the top for one. And who would that be? You!
Guys, remember when you were looking for the “right one”? You might have been playing the field, dating a different girl every weekend, but when you met the “right one”, you forgot about all those other girls and thought about only one.
There’s only room at the top for one. You have to decide if it’s God or money. Many Christians try to serve both God and Money. Notice that Money is capitalized here; it is a deity, an idol, a master. When you love money, it becomes your God and masters you. But you can’t have two gods, two masters. You can’t love both money and God!
An old African proverb says, “The man who tries to walk two roads will split his pants.” Don’t split your britches trying to love God and money. Next warning:
1 Timothy 6:6-10 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 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.
Here, Paul warns us about the love of money; let’s break it down.
In verse 6, Paul says that godliness with contentment is great gain. Paul redefines wealth. Paul says that real wealth is godliness with contentment. Real wealth is what you are as a person, not what you have. You are a rich person when you have Christ-like character and are content with what you have. By this measure, many rich people are poor, and many poor people rich! You have to decide what the true riches are, what you will treasure.
Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
What do you treasure? If it is money and material things, Jesus warns that these are short-lived: they can be destroyed and stolen. Rather than investing our lives in what doesn’t last, Jesus advises us to invest in what lasts forever, to store up treasures in heaven. What are treasures in heaven? What lasts forever? What do we know will be in heaven? God and people. The real riches of life are relationships with God and people. What will you take to heaven? Not your house, not your car, not your money, not your stocks and mutual funds, not your toys. What you’ll take to heaven is you, the person you’ve become, and the people you’ve influenced. Will you be rich?
In verse 7, Paul says that we brought nothing into the world and we’ll take nothing out of it. You can’t take it with you! You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul.
ILL: I thought you’d enjoy this letter to Ann Landers.
Dear Ann Landers:
My Aunt Emma was married to a tightwad who was also a little strange. He made a good salary, but they lived frugally because he insisted on putting 20 percent of his paycheck under the mattress. (The man didn’t trust banks.) The money, he said, was going to come in handy in their old age.
When Uncle Ollie was 60, he was stricken with cancer. Toward the end, he made Aunt Em promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would put the money he had stashed away in his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to. They all knew he was a little odd, but this was clearly a crazy request. Aunt Em did promise, however, and assured Uncle Ollie’s brothers that she was a woman of her word and would do as he asked.
The following morning she took the money (about $26,000) to the bank and deposited it. When Uncle Ollie died, she wrote a check and put it in the casket. This is a true story and our family has laughed about it ever since.
Aunt Em understood that you can’t take it with you! So why not treasure what you can take with you: your relationships with God and people.
In verse 8 Paul says, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Obviously, Paul hadn’t heard of cars, boats, motorcycles, stereos, cameras, computers, hi def televisions, iPhones, iPods, and iPads or he would have enlarged his list! How many of you are like me and wince when you read this? I struggle to be content with the bare necessities; I want more! Where does my lack of contentment lead?
In verse 9 Paul says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” This says that the desire to get rich is a dangerous desire, that it’s a trap that leads to ruin and destruction! How many of you have ever wished you were rich? Oh, about every day!! Have you ever imagined that you might be wishing destruction on yourself? This suggests that it is a dangerous desire!
I believe that the Bible challenges our sacred cultural notion of the American dream. I’m going to step on some toes now, so you might want to scoot your feet under the seat! The American dream is having enough money to do whatever you want, and never having to worry again. But is that God’s dream for you? Is that God’s goal? Did Jesus come to put a chicken in every pot, a BMW in every garage, and a diamond in every ear? Does Jesus want to make you wealthy, or make you holy? Does Jesus want to make you rich or make you content? Jesus never said that He came to make us rich; in fact, He had strong words of warning to the contrary.
Luke 6:20, 24 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”
Luke 18:24-25 “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed 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.”
Verses like these ought to make us stop and rethink our notion of the American dream, and our desire to get rich!
Am I saying that it is wrong or sinful to be rich? No. While the love of money is a sin, having money is not, and the Bible is clear that God may choose to entrust you with great financial resources. It is not a sin to have money; it is only a sin to love money.
So don’t misunderstand when I say that the Bible challenges the American Dream. Don’t think that God is against you when it comes to money, or that He wants you to be poor or miserable. God is for you; God has your best interests at heart. God sent Jesus to give you a new life, an abundant life, life to the full. And in this new life, God wants you to have what you need, and learn how to manage what you have. I love what John Wesley advice about money: “Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” So go earn all you can; but don’t fall in love with it!
In verse 10, Paul says that the love of the money is a root of all kinds of evil. Money is not a root of all kinds of evil; the love of money is. When people love money, they do evil things. Trace conflicts back to their source and often you’ll find the love of money.
Perhaps the most insidious danger of loving money is what it does to our faith. People who are eager for money tend to wander from the faith; they lose their relationship with God because of idolatry, and in the process cause themselves unbelievable grief.
Hebrews 13:5 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.”
Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have. Why? Because God will never leave you or forsake you. Once again the Bible contrasts the love of money with the love of God. If you have the Lord, you can be content with whatever He gives you, because He has already given you the one thing that matters most: Himself!
Money talks: it says, “Serve me. Love me.” And God says the same thing. This is why God says that greed is idolatry.
Greed is idolatry.
Ephesians 5:5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
What is idolatry? It is worshipping something other than God. Putting something in God’s place, at the top where there is room for only one. Greed is idolatry. Greed simply means “I want more.” More, more!
Is it always wrong to want more? No. If you need more, it’s not wrong to want more. If you are hungry, it’s not wrong to want more food. If you’ve no clothes, it’s not wrong to want more clothes. If you’re broke, it’s not wrong to want more money. Greed is when we are never content, when we never have enough, when we always want more. Greed is unrestrained desire. It is the opposite of contentment. And it is an idol. When we become greedy and constantly want more money and more stuff, that is idolatry.
Money is important, but it makes a lousy god. Money is just a tool. It is amoral, neither good nor evil.
ILL: Is a shovel evil? No. It is just a tool. It can be used for good or evil; I can dig a hole to find water that will sustain life, or I can smack someone over the head and kill them. The shovel is just a tool; it is neither good nor bad, but can be used by people for purposes that are good or bad. Money is like a shovel; it is a tool. What matters is how you use it.
What if I started worshiping the shovel? Made it my goal in life to get as many shovels as possible? Spent most of my waking hours thinking about shovels, acquiring shovels, sorting and storing shovels, guarding and protecting my shovels? What if the shovel became the most important thing in my life? You’d say, “Joe is a sick man; he needs help!” How many shovels does a guy need?
What if I worshiped money? Made it my goal in life to get as much money as possible? Spent most of my waking hours thinking about money, acquiring and saving money, guarding and protecting my money? What if money became the most important thing in my life? Then you might say, “How about a loan, old buddy!”
When we get greedy, when we’re always wanting more, when we’re never content or satisfied with what we’ve got, when we make getting rich our life’s goal, we have become idolaters.
Money can keep you from God.
Mark 10:17-25 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 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.”
This story is a very clear warning that money can keep you from God. No one can serve two masters. Jesus challenged this young man to choose between God and Money, to forsake the money idol and follow Him, and he couldn’t do it. His money kept him from God. It prompted Jesus to warn His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed 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.”
That verse should bother us. How many of you are rich? You may not consider yourself rich, but most of the rest of the world would. Most of us in the room enjoy an income and lifestyle that puts us in the top 10% of the world. Ninety percent of the world, that’s almost 6 billion people, would say you and I are rich. And Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Why? Because we can be seduced into loving money instead of God.
Perhaps the greatest danger of loving money is that it will keep you from loving God.
Money talks: it says, “Serve me.”
2. God talks: He says, “Love Me.”
Mark 12:29-31 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
The most important thing is that you love God first, that you love God with all you’ve got. The first of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods before me.” First, let God be God. Get rid of any false gods and stop loving them, and love God with all you’ve got. We have a choice to make.
Joshua 24:14-15 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua challenged the Israelites to choose between the gods of their forefathers, the gods of their neighbors, or the true God. “Throw away the gods” you used to worship—they are throwaway gods—and worship the Lord. The gods of our culture have been money, sex, and pleasure; but money is supreme. Money is the Zeus in the American pantheon. Just as Joshua challenged them, so I’m challenging you: choose this day whom you will serve! Will you serve God or money? Will you love God or money?
To love God first, to love God with all you’ve got, includes loving Him with your money! I learned that the Palestinian Targum, an ancient Aramaic translation of Deuteronomy 6:5 reads “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mammon (money or wealth).” Love God with your money. Or love God with His money, because you are not your own, you belong to God. All that you are and have belong to God!
This means that all I have is God’s; it’s God’s money, and it’s God’s stuff. We don’t own anything. God owns everything and gives us some to manage for Him. One of the first issues Christians need to settle when it comes to money and possessions is that God owns everything and we are His managers, His stewards. God is the owner and we are His managers. It’s all His.
ILL: Let’s do a little exercise. Take out your wallet or your purse. Now give it to the person next to you. Now we’re going to take an offering and you can give like you’ve always wanted to! Just kidding. Was it hard to give someone your wallet or purse? Are you keeping an eye on them? Nervous? Hoping they don’t take anything? Ok, let’s give them back.
It’s hard to trust someone else with our money. But what if we realized it wasn’t our money, but it was His, and we’re just trusting Him with what already belongs to Him? You are not your own, you were bought with a price. You belong to God—and all you have is His.
So we have to ask Him, “Lord, what do you want me to do with Your money? Your car? Your stuff?” And then obey Him! You have to learn how He wants you to manage His stuff. How does God want you to spend His money? How does God want you to save or invest His money? How does God want you to give His money? We’ll talk about all three of those in the next few weeks.
There is freedom in knowing that it all belongs to God and surrendering it back to Him. If the washer and dryer both break down, you don’t have to worry; if that’s the way God wants to spend His money, it’s ok!
ILL: In her book 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, Suze Orman writes about a time when she was in Mexico. There was a merchant who was selling parrots: they weren’t in cages, and they didn’t fly away. Orman was fascinated by this.
She asked the merchant, “Do these birds just love you so much they have no desire to fly away?”
He laughed. “No” he said, “I train them to think their perches mean safety and security. When they come to think this, they naturally wrap their claws tightly around the perch and don’t want to release it. They keep themselves confined, as if they’ve forgotten how to fly.”
In her book, she writes:
“Suddenly a light bulb went off in my head. We are just like those poor parrots. We have been taught to clutch our money as tightly as we can, as if our money is the perch of our safety and security. Just like those parrots, we have all forgotten how free we really are—with or without the perch. The more afraid we are, the tighter we hold on, and the more we have trapped ourselves.”
When she realized this she asked the merchant how he would go about “unteaching” this behavior. “Easy,” he said, “You just show them how to release their grip, and then they can fly as free as they want.”
There is freedom in knowing that it all belongs to God, and you just manage what He gives you. You can release your grip and be free. You can love God and people, not money and things, and experience abundant life.