I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay. Ain't it sad. And still there never seems to be a single penny left for me. That's too bad. In my dreams I have a plan: If I got me a wealthy man, I wouldn't have to work at all, I'd fool around and have a ball
Money, money, money; Must be funny in the rich man's world. Money, money, money; always sunny in the rich man's world. Aha-ahaaa. All the things I could do if I had a little money: It's a rich man's world
Whether you have a lot or a little, money concerns most of us a great deal. It causes great pleasure, but also much misery. It is a common cause of family arguments, especially just after Christmas. It is also a subject which Jesus had more to say on than almost any other.
Normally at this service, we take a single passage of the Bible and hear its message for us today. We’re going to do something slightly different for a few weeks: We’re going to think about the theme of money, and draw the threads together from the whole Bible, to see what God has to say to us about money.
We’ll take five weeks to do this, and if you miss one they will all be on the church website so that you can catch up and fill in the gaps. Today, we started by laying the foundations, and asking the question: What is money?
I know the obvious economic answer. Money is a trading token. You can do better than just bartering something you’ve grown, for something someone else has produced. You can develop more complex industries. You can provide for your family year-round. I know what money is.
But this is not a lesson in economics; it is a sermon as part of our weekly act of worship. We want God to address us, to say the things he would like to say about money. His agenda is not our agenda, so we sit at his feet and ask him to tell us: What is money?
Before we open the Bible, and ask that question, let’s remind ourselves how modern society views money. There are a range of views that people hold.
At one end, is capitalism. Capitalism stresses the existence of private property. What is yours is yours. The aim is to grow your possessions, your capital, by producing and selling things that other people want. In particular, you sell your time, by using it to do work for which somebody else is happy to pay you an income.
At the other end of the scale is socialism, a label that takes in a wide range of viewpoints, including communism, a particular species of socialism. Socialism stresses that we do not live as isolated individuals; we are part of wider society, and so our time and labour should be for the common good. In particular, the means of production, the way you make things that people need, should not be owned by individuals. Some socialists go further, and say that there should be no such thing as private property. In an ideal world even money itself might be unnecessary.
Between those two extremes come a whole range of viewpoints. And for every view there is, you’ll find people who tell you that this is the only Christian way to view money, or to do economics.
Well we can do better than taking our preferred view, and trying to make the Bible back it up. I don’t know whether you would call yourself left wing, right wing, west wing, some other wing, or just plain confused. Let’s start with God. Let’s see what he has to say in the Bible.
I want to say two things this morning. They will appear to contradict each other, but they actually fit together beautifully.
There is no such thing as private property: God owns everything
Here is the first. There is no such thing as private property: God owns everything. There is no such thing as private property: God owns everything.
The Bible speaks quite clearly, that God is the ultimate owner of everything.
We could turn to Exodus chapter 19 verse 5. God has just rescued his people from Egypt, and he says this to them: “although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The whole earth is mine, says God. He owns all of it. And not just the inanimate earth. People too: He is talking about making the nation of Israel his special people. Everyone who lives on the earth is his as well. Everything, and every one, belongs to God.
We could also turn to the psalm that we had read, Psalm 50. Let me read again verses 9 to 12: “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”
God needs nothing from us. Not only does he have no needs, but if he did lack something he owns everything and so could furnish his own need.
God owns everything, because he made everything. Anything God made is his; God made everything; therefore, God owns everything.
Psalm 95 would be the place to turn. It’s a psalm that some of us know well, and here are verses 3-5: “For the lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it and his hands formed the dry land.” Why do the mountain peaks belong to him? Why is the sea his? Answer: “for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
God made everything. God owns everything.
How does this affect the way we view our possessions?
The answer is: They aren’t ours! They are God’s. We simply have them on trust, they are borrowed.
Here is Leviticus chapter 25 and verse 23. God’s people are about to inherit the land that he is going to give them. They need to get straight who owns what. So before each family gets told which piece of land will be theirs, God says this: “the land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” The land is not theirs; it is God’s. He is simply letting them borrow it, live in it, use it.
In the marriage service, as the bride and groom exchange rings, they say these words: “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” They’re wonderful promises. Nothing is mine any more, not exclusively. It’s all shared. All that I am. All that I have. The truth with God goes much further. We don’t need to give him anything. All that we are. All that we have. It’s already his. Not even shared. His.
One of my a more embarrassing memories is of a book I’d borrowed from a friend. I didn’t return it straight away; in fact, it sat on my shelf for so long that I had forgotten who I had borrowed it from. In fact, I had forgotten that it was borrowed at all! I even wrote my name in it. One day that friend came round to see me. “Ah, that’s where that had got to!” And then the really awkward bit, when he opened the front cover and said: “you’ve written your name in it!” … And you want the earth to swallow you up.
It’s a mistake many of us make with our money and our possessions. We forget that they are borrowed. We write our names in them. But that doesn’t make them ours. They belong to God, because God owns everything. There is no such thing as private property.
There is such a thing as private property: God entrusts everything
But that’s only the first thing to say. Here’s the second: There is such a thing as private property: God entrusts everything. There is such a thing as private property: God entrusts everything.
Let’s start with the ten commandments. Here is commandment number 8: “You shall not steal”. That only makes sense if we each have our own possessions. I can’t steal something that is yours, and make it mine, unless there is such a thing as yours and mine.
Or perhaps you know the story of Ananias and Sapphira. It’s recorded in Acts chapter 5. In the earliest days of the Christian church, some Christians sold property to give to those in need. Ananias and Sapphira sold some land, gave some of the money to the church, but pretended they had given all of it. As the Apostle Peter confronts them, he says this in verse 4: “Didn’t the land belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?”
There it is again: the land was theirs to do with as they pleased. Once they had sold the land, the money was at their disposal as well.
Obviously, our land, our money, and our possessions, are not actually ours. We’ve already said they’re God’s. But he has entrusted to them to us. And it would be stealing to take what God has entrusted to somebody else, and to use it as if he had entrusted it to us.
Because our property is held on trust, one day God will want it back. And he will hold us to account for how we have used the property that we were given to use.
You may remember the parable of the talents. In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who goes on a journey. He divides his money between his servants, giving different amounts to different servants. The phrase in Matthew chapter 25 verse 14 is: “He entrusted his wealth to them.” The turning point of the story is verse 19, when the master “returned and settled accounts with them”.
In fact, this all goes much wider than just our possessions. Jesus told another story in Luke chapter 12. The story of a farmer who was extremely successful. His crops were so vast that he builds the most enormous barns to store all his food. Retirement was in sight; he had made it! Until, Luke chapter 12, verse 20: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.’”
God wanted it back. It was time to repay the loan. Is not just the possessions, the crops. The man’s life was on loan. And one day God would ask for it back. The man had completely forgotten this, and so God called him a fool. Everything we have, and everything we are, is lent to us by God, and we hold it in trust.
If you’ve ever borrowed a friend’s car, you know the awareness of how careful you need to be with it. One day, you’ll need to return it. You want to hand it back in the condition you were lent it. No matter how good the friend, you don’t want them to be reminded of you every time they see a particular dent. You don’t want to leave your mark.
So there is the paradox about our money and our possessions. There is no such thing as private possessions, because God owns everything. But God entrusts his property to us. Those things are at our disposal, to use as we choose. But they remain God’s; one day he will ask for them back; one day we will have to give an account for what we have done with our life and with our goods.
Which is why, if we follow God’s teaching in the Bible, we will not be a capitalist or a socialist. Capitalism says that what is mine is mine; we’re in danger of forgetting that it’s really God’s. Socialism says that what is mine is ours; we’re in danger of forgetting that there are things that God has entrusted to me, and I am responsible for them. So I don’t believe in capitalism or socialism, but in stewardship.
There is one more thing we need to add to this picture. And that is the person of Jesus.
The New Testament is quite clear. It is not just God, in general, who made everything; Jesus, God the Son is creator of all. And it is not just God, in general, who will reckon with us; Jesus of Nazareth is the one to whom we will have to give an account. We have already seen that in some of his parables.
So let’s return to the question we started with. What is money? The answer is that Jesus owns all of it. And he asks you to look after some of it for him.
What is your life? Jesus owns that too, and he asks you to look after that as well.
For many of us, this is really quite a radical perspective on money, on possessions, on life. It shouldn’t be. Whenever we say the sentence: “Jesus Christ is Lord”, this is what we are saying. Jesus Christ is the rightful owner of your life and mine, and of all that we own.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will think through how this works out: in how we earn money, and in how we spend it. But for now, let’s pray.