Sermon for Sunday, April 26, 2009
Dr. Dan Doriani
FAITH, WEALTH AND ECONOMICS
1 Timothy 6:6-12, 17-19
Abraham Lincoln said, "The penniless beginner…labors for wages for a while, [then] saves a surplus to buy tools or land for himself; then labors on his own a while, and at length hires another beginner to help him." The hope of steady advance "gives hope to all." We sometimes called this "the American Dream." Some people thought it was a promise. What now?
"For most of our adult lives, my wife and I have behaved the way responsible cogs of capitalism are supposed to behave: we invested in a carefully calibrated mix of [stocks] and bonds. [We bought a reasonable house], we put the maximum in our 401K accounts, we gave to charity, we saved and spent. I expected to retire at 62 and go bass fishing with my friends, like the men in the Flomax commercials. Then I took a random walk down Wall Street and got hit by a bus." 1
Economically, we wonder what happened to the dream – a dream we thought was almost a promise? Daniel Kahneman received a Nobel-prize for behavioral economics. He expects people to be panicked and paralyzed. "You no longer know the world you live in [economically]. You played by the rules [and] benefited. The world functioned according to regularities. [But] now it's unclear what rules apply." The prudent life has disappeared 2
So the American dream, which inspired resolute action, now seems like a foolish fantasy. People wonder: Will I have a safe career and a stable income? Will I own the home, will I travel, will I be able to retire as planned? Will I be able to give to heirs, to God's causes, as I had planned.
A Time magazine poll says people are scared. Most (61%) say that they will spend less even when prosperity returns. Among people with an average income ($50,000/year), one third have not gone to the doctor because of the cost and one eighth have been hungry. Forty percent of people earning over $100,000 say they buy more store brands, use more coupons, and have postponed or canceled vacation. At all income levels, forty percent feel anxious, thirty three percent have trouble sleeping, twenty percent are depressed. Why? Because the rules have changed and we don't know what's next (Time, April 27, 2009, p. 22). But God's rules have not changed. I want to share the most basic with you.
1. The Bible blesses hard work and private property
The Bible assumes everyone should work. Laziness is folly. Solomon says, "Go to the ant, you sluggard… When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest — and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:6-11).
Refusal to work is culpable. Paul had this rule: If a man will not work – that is, refuses to work when he could, "he shall not eat." People must work if they can. And employers should pay them promptly and fairly for it.
And we have the right to what we earn. The Communist theory is at least as old as Plato's Republic, but it's not found in the Bible. Deuteronomy 27:17, 19:14 says, "Cursed is the man who moves his neighbor’s boundary stone." A boundary stone marked a family's land, "the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord" gave Israel to possess.
It's true that in the early church "All the believers were together and had everything in common… They shared everything they had. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet (Acts 2:44, 4:32, 34-5).
But this is generosity, not communism. Property rights continue. No one has to sell anything. Some who are wealthy chose to sell. And when they do, the property is theirs. Peter tells one man his money is at his disposal – to give or to keep as God leads (Act 5:4).
2. The Bible blesses savings and prudent planning for the future
Joseph is wise because he stored grain for the famine that was going to strike Egypt (Genesis 41). Wise kings of Israel like Solomon, Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah stored up surplus for hard years – although sometimes they passed from storing to hoarding (2 Chronicles 8:4-6, 17:12, 32:38).
Moses told faithful Israel to store up the fruit of their labor and bring it to the temple, from there to be distributed to the poor and to the temple service (Deuteronomy 14:28). Parents should save for their children. Paul declares "children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children" (2 Corinthians 12:14). Jesus says we shouldn't "worry about tomorrow" (Matthew 6:30) but we can plan for the future; Jesus did.
3.The Bible condemns both debt and hoarding. It blesses generosity
The Bible say debt makes us vulnerable to creditors. In the ancient world, people could be tossed into jail, even become slaves, for large, unpaid debts (Job 24:9, Matthew 18:25). Therefore we should be very slow to take on debts and obligations (Proverbs 11:15, 17:18 vs pledging for debt).
Paul says, "Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect... Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another" (Romans 13:7-8). I don't believe this forbids the use of credit cards as a convenient way to make a purchase. It does counsel against credit card obligations that you cannot immediately repay. That is debt. On this principle, I use credit cards, but I always pay every dollar right away and would never buy anything on credit unless I knew I could pay cash if I chose. For homes, the principle would be substantial ownership, large down payment.
But those who are careful with their money are prone to the opposite error – hoarding. Solomon says: "There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 'For whom am I toiling' he asked, 'and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?' This too is meaningless — a miserable business! "I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner" (Ecclesiastes 4:8, 5:13).
We've all chuckled at the person who takes too much luggage on a trip. They burden themselves keeping track of it. But life is like a journey. It's sensible to travel light. Solomon: "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income" (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Money is like sea water, the more we drink the thirstier we get. It's all are temporary. We can't take it with us, so why live for it?
Sometimes we heap up wealth to prove ourselves. Solomon again with inspired overstatement: "I saw that all labor and achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 4:4). The opposite of vanity is satisfaction.
4. The Lord gives certainty and satisfaction (money cannot).
An English pastor tells of a man who went to church in a prosperous county afflicted by the prosperity gospel. The pastor told the man that if he gave his life to Christ, God would give him a Jaguar automobile. But the man already owned a Jaguar. So he visited another church and told that pastor what had happened the previous week. He said, "The pastor promised me a Jaguar, but I already own a Jaguar and my life is still empty and meaningless. Doesn't Christianity have something to offer me besides an automobile?" It does, it surely does! 3
Wealth is uncertain, Paul tells Timothy. It will never satisfy our deepest longings, says Isaiah. The Lord does. We don't need to prove anything to him – he loves us and accepts us as we are.
B. The lessons of Paul. 1 Timothy 6
Today's Scripture is for believers who know the Lord and are striving to live faithfully. Paul takes us beyond the rules to a right view of riches, of striving and of faith. We need God's perspective.
1. God's good creation is the basis of all wealth and productivity.
First principle: This material world is God's personal gift. "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Exodus 9:29, Psalm 24:1, 1 Corinthians 10:26). It is our happy privilege to enjoy its bounty. God pours water onto the earth. "He makes grass for the cattle and plants for man to cultivate, bringing forth food from the earth: gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart." (Psalm 104:10-15). Thus "Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if/when it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:4). The first principle: Through his good creation, God supplies what we need to sustain life and to give joy.
By making the earth so fertile, full of potential, God blessed human culture, and creativity. We can domesticate animals and cultivate plants – for food and for joy. "Wine that gladdens the heart" means he blesses beyond the minimum. We would say he blesses invention and all its good fruit – technology.
This is foundation of Christian economics. God placed beauty and riches in the earth: plants, animals, fruit trees, rivers, valuable metals, stones (Genesis 2:11-12). We should discover, appreciate and develop all these things – and thank him for it.
2. God’s way to enjoy wealth – contentment.
So God placed these riches in the world. Then the Bible tells us how to enjoy it. First, contentment. "Godliness with contentment is great gain." Paul is enjoying a little play on words. Economically, financially, we seek profit, wealth or gain. That is fine. But contentment with whatever you have is more profitable, more gain.
People think religion should yield dividends, a payoff, and it does – for those who are content with what they have. It pays off for those who are content with Christ. Contentment is a gift of the Holy Spirit – it is finding satisfaction with what I have. Better yet, it is finding satisfaction within. Even better yet, it is being satisfied with Christ and all his benefits. Someone wrote this poem:
“It was spring, but I wanted summer – the warm days and the great outdoors.
It was summer, but I wanted fall – the colorful leaves, the cool, dry air.
It was fall, but I wanted winter – the beautiful snow and the holiday season.
It was winter, but I wanted spring – the warmth and the blossoms of nature.
I was 20, but wanted 30: to be mature and sophisticated.
I was middle aged, but wanted 20: the youth and the free spirit.
I was retired, but wanted middle age: presence of mind without limitations.”
There are several reasons why godliness with contentment brings gain. First, wealth is fleeting, transitory evanescent. No one brings anything into this world; no one takes anything out of it. "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return." (Job 1:21) Solomon applies it to everyone: "Naked a man comes from his mother's womb and as he comes, so he departs" (Ecclesiastes 5:15). Everyone must know this. Therefore, why hoard for this fleeting life?
Here is a true story. A wealthy man died. After the funeral someone was so bold as to ask the pastor about the contents of the will: "How much did he leave behind?" they asked. "All of it," the wise pastor replied.
Second, if we have food and covering, we should be content with that. Notice what our needs are: Food and covering. Covering, skepavsma, includes clothing and housing. We need three things: food, clothing, shelter. We should be content with that. Jesus said the same thing: if God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, surely he will feed and clothe us. He promises: "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).
If you have enough, be content. Solomon said, "The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep" (Ecclesiastes 5:12) "Give me neither poverty nor riches" says Proverbs. Proverbs points out that fire never burns enough and leeches never eat enough. How destructive both are. Know how to say "enough" (Proverbs 30:8-16).
Some people are content with a little. In China, it's customary to have two or three sets of clothing and wear them over and over. We think that is strange, but it's common throughout the world. It's possible to be content with a few sets of clothes. That would be hard for us. Given our customs; we would feel strange wearing the same clothes. We'd think people were looking at us and we might be right.
3. Sin and harmful desires for wealth. Sin corrupts economics.
So then, custom can prevent us from having the right attitude toward wealth and possessions. Ordinary sin can, too. Wealth brings us certain comforts and people get hungry for them. "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" (6:9). The desire for riches makes people think of things… We are enticed by things that might not entice us. We succumb and fall. Paul is right and the evidence is all around us.
Leveraged investments that fell apart and left a burden, a trap of debt, job loss.
The temptation to walk away from debts, obligations people freely chose.
People bought houses they couldn't afford thinking, "The price will go up; real estate prices always go up. I can flip it." But then prices went down. Trapped!
To look rich also trapped people with debts they cannot escape, commitments they cannot fulfill.
We are also battling the gods, the idols of mankind. Economic success gives us significance, self-acceptance, reputation and security. If we don't have much, some people think we are not much. And that's hard for most of us to bear.
Paul closes with his version of an ancient proverb about money. Read carefully. Not: "Money is the root of all evil." Money is not evil any more than a phone is evil. Money is a tool, a means of transaction.
Rather, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." This is a proverb. It's not a statement on the priority of greed in the family of sin. It's a warning. The love of money is one source of many evils, and it gives them strength.
The term "love of money" is one compound term filarguriva, love plus silver. Augustine said, “Why is love of money even called ‘love’? Surely we should say ‘lust for money.’ But love of money is a kind of love. It is a love that seeks fulfillment or happiness in a place that does not, cannot provide fulfillment - the sphere of mortal, transitory things. So love of money is flawed but it is love. It's a love of the wrong thing and weaves a tangled web of unhappiness.”4.
When we seek fulfillment in things that cannot provide it, we bring trouble on ourselves. We can lose our wealth, our treasures. So we are vulnerable to loss and our love is tinged with fear. We fear a scrape when we have a new car. When we love money, we worry about people who may ask for it or take it or defraud us. The result: one person is set against another. We see each other as threats. So we demean ourselves, betray our nature, our first love.
The man of God must "flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness" (6:11).
4. The three best uses of wealth: Meet basic needs, enjoy it, give it away.
Paul tells Timothy, tells us, how we should use our resources - money or wealth: To meet our basic needs, to enjoy life, and to give to others. Acronym: BEG for the proper use of wealth. First, basic needs (6:8): we are content with food and covering - clothing and shelter. Paul lists enjoyment and giving in 6:17-18. Make sure we see main points there.
Notice that Paul first spoke, in 6:9, to people who "want to get rich." He warns those who make wealth a major life goal. The principle is that it is dangerous and misguided to live to get rich.
I encountered a man who openly lived for money while in grad school. I was looking for a summer job that was hard enough to pay well to cover next year's tuition. I decided to try pest exterminating. I got an interview with a young, energetic owner. He sat me down and immediately asked, "What is your purpose in life?" Surprised for a moment, I took this as an opportunity to share my faith and launched an explanation of my life purpose as Christian. But he quickly interrupted, "Listen, my purpose in life is to make money and I want to know if you want to make money." In a way, I understand perfectly. No one starts a pest control business in inner-city Philadelphia for the travel and the people. But his bluntness was exceptional – "I live for Mammon."
But it is not evil to be rich, especially if one became rich along the way, going about life. Elie Wiesel became rich by writing about the Holocaust. But that isn't why he wrote. He wrote to preserve the truth and his books happened to sell, eventually. It is fine to become rich along the way, while using gifts, serving others, serving the truth. It's possible to become rich by working hard and faithfully. So Paul lays out principles for rich believers.
First, don't be arrogant. Riches tempt people to think they are important, to brag about their latest experience, to think their voice counts more.
Second, don't put your hope in wealth. Don't trust in wealth. Riches are "so uncertain." It flies from our hands” (Proverbs 23:5). Glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off." We know that now, don't we? So, don't hope in wealth, hope in God. He gives our daily bread and eternal life and "he richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (6:17). He wants us to enjoy his gifts.
Now here is a hard question: How much should we enjoy ourselves? When does enjoyment end and self-indulgence begin? When should we enjoy abundance and when should we be content with less and generous toward others? The Lausanne Conference on world evangelism said, "We distinguish between necessities and luxuries, between creative activities and empty status symbols, between occasional celebrations and routine self-indulgence." I cannot tell you how much is too much. I do ask that you seek the Lord and talk it over with wise friends as you live life together.
Third, the rich must do good, be rich in good deeds and be generous. Notice: It is not enough to give money. He wants us to give of ourselves first – in good deeds.
For example, a man from Central who is a nurse recently asked if there was anyone who could play classical music. He was hoping to bring some light and peace to a patient on his floor who was terminally ill. This man had been a fifty-year patron of the St. Louis Symphony. Would anyone at the church be willing to come and play for him? Yes – a violinist. Someone asked her - she said yes. So she came and played from 5:30 to 7:00 one night. The man loved it and found strength in it and it led to an opportunity to talk about the faith a little with the man.
Financial giving is second. This is a challenge. Many of us have lost jobs. Many who have jobs have seen their income and savings plummet. Some of you have kept giving to causes that depend on you. The Lord is honored and smiles at your sacrifice. Others are unable to give. You are praying for a job or a change at work and we are praying with you. You would like to earn more and give more – the Lord is honored by your heart's desire. Sometimes I think our church family has been hit harder than the general public. The Lord hears our prayers!
Some of us are not touched by the crisis. If you or I can give more, this is the hour to give sacrificially. Like most churches, we froze our budget first and then began to cut it everywhere possible - nearly ten percent next year. The water cooler is long gone; the cuts are getting harder now. God’s basic principle is the tithe. Beyond that, the Lord loves a cheerful giver. I invite those who can to join me in giving beyond the tithe this year.
Why? Giving is not mere duty. When we give, we are, Jesus said, "Rich toward God" (Luke 12:19). We all know the saying "You can't take it with you." But you can send it ahead of you. By giving, we lay up treasures in heaven where we will see the Lord whom we love.
1 Jeffrey Goldblum, Atlantic, May, 2009, What Now? pages 36-45.
2 Atlantic, May 2009, p. 38
3 Phil Ryken, I Timothy, pg. 259
4 Wm Babcock, Augustine Today, page 61