“Surely we don’t need a sermon on how to spend money! That’s easy!”. So someone said to me last week.
But step back a bit, and ask how we are to use our money, and the Bible has a great deal to say.
If you missed either of the past two sermons on money, they’re both on our website. We’ve asked what money is, and we looked at earning money.
And now reach the third instalment. Spending money. Using money. And as you look at the Bible on this topic, it warns us of the three dangers. They come up again and again.
The first is loving money. Loving money.
Come with me to Matthew chapter 6. Verse 19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 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.”
Jesus is asking some profound and challenging questions. Where is your treasure? On earth or in heaven? Where is your gaze? What are your eyes fixed on? What are your goals in life? Where is your heart? What are your ambitions? Who is your master? What do you love?
There are only two answers. God or money. And no, you can’t say both. Either money is what grabs your attention, excites you, makes you tick. Or God is. But you cannot serve two masters. You cannot love both God and money.
Our Bible reading from 1 Timothy takes these words of Jesus, and presses them home for us. Verse 9: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 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.”
Do you want to get rich? Most people do. But if you do, you open yourself up to a whole host of traps to fall in, temptations to fall for. Plenty of people have lost relationships that are dear to them, have ended up on the wrong side of the law, have become enslaved to an unscrupulous employer, have lost their ability to enjoy the simple things of life. All because of a desire to get rich.
This paragraph does not say that money is the root of all evil. Money, like everything else God has made, is good.
The story is told of some crooks who used to try and fleece pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem by misquoting this verse to them. “Money is the root of all evil, so give us yours!” What an irony! The only people causing evil, because of their love of money, were these crooks! The best way to immunise yourself against such a scam is to read this verse correctly.
Here’s what it actually says: “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Not all evil, and not the only root, but certainly a root of all kinds of evil. But the problem is not money, but the love of money. So much pain, suffering, and troubles in the world can be traced back to people who allow money to fill their horizons. It’s where their heart is set.
Earlier this month, Turkish police seized over 1000 fake life jackets that were being sold to migrants looking to cross the Mediterranean. Before they were caught, many more had been sold. Tragically, some who did not survive the crossing were found wearing jackets that were no use to them at all. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Paul tells Timothy that some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith. The aspiration to get rich is one of the reasons some people give up on following Jesus altogether.
Jesus did not give this warning so that we might tut tut at medieval conmen and shady Turkish market stallholders, but because this is a real danger for us. The advertising industry tries its hardest to cultivate within us the love of money. But if we allow money to take over our hearts, we put ourselves in great danger. You cannot serve both God and money.
What is the antidote to the love of money? It is the God who provides. He showers his blessings on us. God does not promise that we will always be happy, healthy, and wealthy. But he is the giver of all good gifts, and he asks us to set our hearts, our love, one him. Not for what he might give us. Not because of his gifts. But for him.
The media scorns those who marry for money. When somebody that none of us have ever heard of marries some rich celebrity, it is assumed that they must be doing it for the money. It cannot be love. Well, let’s not be so cynical. Maybe there is real love their after all. But above all, let’s not be like that with God. God is not a slot machine, a convenient way to get along in life. He deserves to be the centre, the one we live for, and the one we delight in.
Loving money is so dangerous. The antidote is to love God, the giver of all good gifts.
Danger number one: Loving money.
Living for money
Danger number two: Living for money. Living for money.
This is much more specific than loving money. This is about your ambitions, how you measure the success of your life, your targets for yourself.
So what is the Bible’s warning about living for money? It is this: You never reach your target. It is like trying to reach the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow. You keep chasing it, and it keeps moving further away.
There are two reasons why you never get there. One is that money never satisfies. Here is Ecclesiastes chapter 5, verse 10: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” Money, as a goal for life, is meaningless. You never get there.
Proverbs chapter 27, verse 20, says this: “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.”
John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil in America. At one point, he was the world’s richest man, and was America’s first billionaire. A journalist once famously asked him how much money one would need to be happy. His answer was telling: “just a little bit more.” Money never satisfies. If it’s what you live for, you never get there.
But not only does money not satisfy, you can’t take it with you. The reality of death puts the nail in the coffin of any notion that money is worth living for.
Ecclesiastes chapter 5 again, this time verse 15: “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.” Or out Bible reading from 1 Timothy chapter 6. Verse 7: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
The story is told of a wealthy man who chose to have the hymn Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer at his funeral. There is a line in that hymn that says: “Land me safe on Canaan’s side”. It’s asking God to bring us safely to heaven, using the Old Testament land of Canaan as a picture. Only this gentleman’s order of service contained a misprint. It read “land my safe on Canaan’s side.” But that’s the point, it can’t be done.
Please turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 12. Verse 13: Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’ And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” ‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” ‘This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.’
The man thought he had it made. He could retire early. But he had forgotten one thing. The day would come when God would ask for his life back. When that happened, he would have to leave everything behind. The money he had saved up here on earth would be no use to him at all.
I have heard from more than one landlord how hard it is to run a pub that you lease from the brewery. Suppose the kitchen needs some work to upgrade it. Maybe you’re in luck, and the brewery will take on the work. More often than not, though, you would have to pay for this yourself. The trouble is: It’s not your pub. It’s not your kitchen. When you move on from running that pub, you can’t take it with you. So you are piling your assets into something that you have to leave behind.
Whenever we are tempted to live for money, we do exactly the same thing. We pour our lives into building up our bank accounts, our real estate, and our home comforts. But when we move on from this life, we have to leave it all behind.
You never get there. Money never satisfies. And you can’t carry even one penny of it with you.
So what is the alternative? What is the antidote for living for money?
After telling the story of the rich fool, here is Jesus’ punchline to the crowds. Verse 21, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.”
The alternative is to be rich towards God. Jesus told us not to lay up treasures on earth, but treasures in heaven. It is to live for something that lasts.
Heaven is a rich and wonderful place. But none of us deserves to go there. We’re all bankrupt before God. So Jesus gave up the comforts of heaven, and died in our place on a Roman cross. He purchased for us the riches of heaven, something we could never afford for ourselves. And then he rose from the dead, and gave us the certain hope of the most wonderful inheritance. All we have to do is trust him.
Danger number two: Living for money. Instead, we can receive riches in heaven as a gift from God.
Danger number three: Luxury. Luxury.
There’s one final Bible passage we need to turn to this morning and its James chapter 5.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
James attacks luxurious living on two fronts.
First, there is hoarding. Verse 2: “your wealth has rotted, and moths have you eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.”
We’re in what the New Testament writers call “the last days”. That is the period between Jesus rising from the dead, and Jesus returning as judge of everyone. This is not the time for stockpiling our goods. James knows that gold and silver do not corrode. They are almost inert metals. That is precisely James’s point. Even things we think last forever, do not.
When Jesus judges us all, I don’t know whether there will be exhibits brought out as evidence. James says that our hoarded silver and gold will testify against us. The picture here is of the contents of our lofts, roof spaces, cupboards under the stairs, and garages being produced as exhibits. We have been living in luxury.
As well as hoarding, there’s self-indulgence. Here’s verse 5. “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.”
And it’s that phrase, the day of slaughter, that puts its finger on what’s wrong with luxurious living. The problem with hoarding, with self-indulgence.
The last days ends when Jesus returns to this world as judge. That day will be wonderful for those who know the Lord Jesus.
We’ve already heard some amazing good news this morning. God is the giver of all good gifts. It’s so shallow to love money, when we can know and love and treasure the God who made the universe, and who gives us everything we enjoy. He’s a God of immense kindness, sacrificing himself to bring us from spiritual bankruptcy to treasure in heaven. When Jesus returns, it will be the start of the most wonderful future imaginable. It will be that for everyone who knows him.
But tragically, not everyone is ready to meet Jesus as their judge. Some people live for this world alone. Some would rather remain bankrupt before God than accept his riches as a free gift. And if you persist in saying no to Jesus, then one day he will say no to you. When he returns as judge, it will be the most terrible day for those who are unforgiven. As James’s letter says, “a day of slaughter”.
The last days are the age of opportunity. Many of us have discovered God and his wonderful kindness. The door is still open. Everyone who turns to Jesus to start following him can get to know this amazingly gracious God for themselves. But the door will not stay open forever. These are the last days. When Jesus returns as judge, the door will be closed.
The priority in these last days is to tell others of God’s mind-blowing goodness. Of the grace that is available to everyone who turns to him. This is not the period for living in luxury.
Mountain rescue teams released dramatic footage of the flooded conditions they had to drive in to rescue people from trapped vehicles and houses in the Lake District before Christmas. At one point, there was a whole coach that was trapped in the water. The Land Rover drove back and forth, ferrying a few people each time. With each return visit, the water on the road was a little higher, and the retaining walls were breaking down.
Now imagine that you were one of the first to be rescued from that coach, taken to a place of safety. An ounce of gratitude, and a smidgen of charity, would see you wanting the rest to be rescued as fast as possible. What you certainly wouldn’t dream of, is complaining about the quality of the tea that you were served at the safe place you had been taken to. You certainly have wouldn’t insist that the rescuers did not return to the coach until your tea had been fixed.
A couple of years ago, the BBC showed a drama series called The Crimson Field. It featured the bleak conditions in a field hospital in Northern France during World War One. There were a few scenes where you saw officers and other senior officials enjoying silver-service dining in the most comfortable buildings of that hospital site. They were meant to evoke in us a feeling that something is badly wrong. With men being brought to the hospital from the battlefields, disfigured, in a life threatening condition, this was not the season for slap up dinners.
And yet, how easily we live for luxury. Hoarding and self-indulgence. We who have tasted God’s kindness, complaining about the tea, enjoying our silver-service, instead of urgently telling others the good news we have discovered for ourselves.
Maybe you did think that a sermon on spending money would have little to say.
The fact is, money is a paradox. We can’t do without it. And yet having it in any quantity is a dangerous place to be. How easily we start to love it, live for it, indulge in luxury.
The antidote is to be captivated by God. To delight in his beauty. To discover his kindness, his grace, his riches, until our number one priority in life becomes helping others to discover these things for themselves as well.