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Sunday, August 16, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "Poverty & Riches"


“Poverty & Riches”
In God We Trust - What the Bible Says About Money
August 16, 2009
Proverbs 30:7-9

This is the last message in our Summer Series titled, “In God We Trust – What the Bible Says About Money.” And we haven’t said everything that the Bible says about money, but we’ve covered a lot of important ground.

Let’s take our last Pop Quiz to remind ourselves what we’ve learned.

Question #1. Money is what? [Profoundly Spiritual.] Money is profoundly spiritual.

We do not give in to the “Pie Chart Fallacy” that our spiritual life is just a little sliver of our total life and that our finances have nothing to do with our hearts.

Our finances have everything to do with our hearts. Jesus said, “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Money is profoundly spiritual.

If you don’t remember anything else from this Summer, remember that.

God cares about what I do, what I think, and how I feel about money.

Money is profoundly spiritual.

Question #2. Who owns all of the money in the world? [God does!]

“The Earth is the Lords’s and all that is in it.” Everything in our accounts, wallets, and purses. God owns.

And Question #3. What does that make us? [Stewards! God’s financial agents.]

And that means that we must give an account for what we do with God’s money.

There will be a heavenly audit!

Question #4. How many masters can you serve? [Only One.]

Only God or Money. God or Mammon.

We must choose. Once and for all and every day.

Question #5. What are the four main ways that we are tempted to serve money?

1. Worry About Money.
2. Steal Money.
3. Hoard Money.
4. Crave Money.

Question #6. What is the opposite of worrying about money?

[Trusting God.] Written on all of our money here in the United States (whether we heed it or not)? “In God We Trust.”

Not in money.

#7. What is the antithesis of stealing money?

[Working and Giving]

#8. What is the antithesis of hoarding money?

[Being generous! Sharing it.]

#9. What is the antidote to craving money?

[Contentment in Christ.] Keep yourselves free from the love of money and be content with what you have–the Lord Jesus.

Question #10. What is the New Testament percentage that the Lord requires of His children for their giving? Answer: There is none.

We are to give generously, sacrificially, cheerfully, and expectantly–expecting reward.

Question #11. How much should we pay back in loans and pay in taxes? [Pay what you owe.] Now, do we have to do that cheerfully? One of you asked me that.

No. We don’t have to like it, though we are to do everything without grumbling or complaining!

Question #12. What are the three actions of a biblical marriage as it relates to money? [Leave, Cleave, and Become One.] Married couples are co-stewards, co-managers of everything that God has entrusted them.

Good job! We’ve been learning a lot.

I’d be interested to hear what you’ve learned this Summer.

And how God has been blessing you as you grow as a biblical steward of what God has entrusted to you care.

I know that it’s sometimes one step forward and two steps back.

You’ve probably picked up by now that I’m no expert at money management. Just this week, I got a notice from the bank that I did it again–another speeding ticket. Another bank overdraft.

Rats! You’d think that a guy who is preaching a series of messages on money would be careful not to fall into that trap during the series!

I still have a lot to learn here. But God has been teaching me. And He has been faithful all of my life in this financial and spiritual arena.

Here’s another testimony from one of you:
I’ve got three testimonies about God’s providence.

Each one is how God provided for me (and later, our family) when I was laid-off.
In every case, God provided for my needs.

The first time I got laid off, God provided a new job (that I loved) the same day I was let go. It was fun job, with a Christian boss, who knew this was a temporary job for me, and didn’t mind me taking time off for interviews.

The second time I was laid off, God provided enough freelance work, that I had more money in my bank account when I went back to work than I had when I was laid-off. And I was called back to my job after a couple of months.

The third time, I was able to do freelance work for the company I was laid off from, while still collecting severance pay! And my severance continued after I found a new full-time job. So for a while, I was getting 2 very good pay checks. Taxes were a killer the next year, but we paid what we owed.
Praise God?! Yes! He is faithful.

Now, today, I want to wrap up this series by thinking about the two extremes on the money continuum. The two extremes of “Poverty and Riches.” Poverty and Wealth.

There is a prayer recorded here in Proverbs chapter 30, verses 7, 8, and 9.

It’s a prayer by a man named Agur son of Jakeh and that’s about all we know about this guy. He has a number of excellent proverbs in chapter 30, but we don’t know much about Agur.

But he has this double prayer request in verses 7 through 9 that we want to look at today.

“Two things I ask of you, O LORD [He’s got two requests]; do not refuse me before I die: [Request #1] Keep falsehood and lies far from me [Agur wants a life without deceit. That’s a great prayer request!]; [Request #2] give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

This second request, of course, is the one that has to do with money.

Agur prays that the LORD would give him neither poverty nor riches.

He doesn’t want one or the other. But instead, he prays that God would give him his daily bread. Or if you have the King James Version, “food convenient for me.” New Living Translation, “Just enough to satisfy my needs.”

Not poverty, not riches, just enough to satisfy my needs. Somewhere in between the extremes.

Now, how much is that? Does he put a number on that?

It doesn’t say, does it? It doesn’t put a number on that here.

And nowhere in Scripture does it put a number on that. That number is going to be different for different people in different locations, different cultures, different periods of history, different socio-economic situations.

And this is not a call to judge other people. “Oh, they are too rich!”

It’s a prayer request for the human soul.

Agur recognizes that there are dangers inherent in both extremes on the money continuum. There are dangers lurking in both ditches of having money and not having money. And so he prays that God would help him by His grace to stay on the middle road of neither poverty nor riches.

He says the danger of having money (v.9) is that we would forget God.

Agur prays, “I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Forgetting that everything we have belongs to God. And beginning to arrogantly put our trust in money and possessions. That’s the temptation we titled, “Hoarding.”

When we hoard, we forget God, and money becomes our god, and we lose our way.

In the other ditch, there is the temptation to steal. V.9

“Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”

If you are poor, and you can’t feed yourself, and you can’t feed your children, you are tempted to become a thief. It’s easy to look down on theft until you see someone starving, and then you understand how tempting it would be to take what someone else has.

There is nothing glamorous about being poor.

This prayer is a prayer for contentment. It’s not so much a prayer that God would limit His gifts to us as that our hearts would be content with what He has given.

And that if that takes limiting his earthly gifts to us so that we don’t fall into the trap of forgetting God, then do that, Lord. Because I don’t want to disown you!

Neither poverty nor riches.

The best book I read this summer on money has that as the title. It’s written by Craig Blomberg a graduate of Trinity and a professor at Denver Theological Seminary. “Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions.

If you want to know in comprehensive summary everything the Bible teaches about money, this is the book for you. And it does it systematically, going through the Bible from Genesis to Reveleation. An excellent study. I’m done with it now, you would be welcome to borrow it. “Neither Poverty Nor Riches.” Highly Recommended. [Audio Summary]

Blomberg says that the Bible argues that there are extremes of poverty and wealth that are both in and of themselves intolerable.
There is a kind of crushing poverty that is just plain wrong and must be alleviated. And there is a kind of wealth that is just plain wrong and must be countered.

Especially, in the soul of the Christ-follower.

Agur’s prayer, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” Is that your prayer?

Of course, the Bible has even more to say about poverty and riches than that.

I’d like to mention a few others.

First, about the poor.

We need to care about the poor.

Because God does. Do you remember when we studied Exodus together? There were whole chapters in the Law that dealt with how to care for the poor of Israel.

Leave the corners of your fields for the poor to gather from.

Don’t charge the poor interest on their loans. Don’t take advantage of the poor!

Don’t take a man’s livelihood from him when as security on a loan–never take the upper millstone from a man–he couldn’t do his work if you did.

Slaves get freed every 7 years. Kinsman redeemers buying poor family members out of debt.

The book of Ruth is beautiful description of these laws in effect.

God loves poor people. He cares about what they are going through. And He cares about whether or not we care.

Listen to these proverbs that talk about how our relationship with the poor affects our relationship with God!

Proverbs 14:31 “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Proverbs 19:17 “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.”

Proverbs 21:13 “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.”

What do you think of that?

This is picked up in the New Testament in the book of James and 1 John.

1 John 3:17 “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

What are you doing to relieve the crushing burden on the poor?

In 1999, our first child died in the womb. We were devastated.

And one of the things we decided to do in the midst of our grief was sign up to sponsor a child through Compassion International.

We got a little girl who is now a young lady named Christine Fenelon. She lives in Haiti.

We correspond with her several times a year, send her Christmas presents, and pictures of our growing family. And we pray for her and get a pictures of her once year–a growing, beautiful girl.

That’s one small way that Heather and I have responded to the need of the poor.

How are you doing it? There are two main things in the New Testament that we are supposed to give towards. One is gospel work and gospel workers. The other is meeting real, tangible, needs of the poor and hurting.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

Sometimes, what the poor need the most is not a hand-out but a hand-up. They need justice, new laws to protect them, micro-loans to start businesses, and other social services that help to build wealth.

This book, I read this Summer, “Money, Greed, and God” argues that often the thing most needed to truly alleviate the suffering of the poor is good business. [Author Interview with Kevin DeYoung]

I agree. Business is a good thing. That’s the argument of this book by one my old professors, Wayne Grudem, “Business to the Glory of God.” This book argues for the moral goodness of business. Business is not bad, a necessary evil, it is, in fact, a good thing given by God for this age and meant to be done to His glory.

If you are in business, I highly recommend reading this book. [Audio Lectures on the Same.]

Because we need to truly care about the poor and do what we can and what is right to relieve their burden.

The new EFCA Statement faith says it really well in the new point #8: “We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.”

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

Here’s a second thing that the Bible tells us to do about the poor:

We need to learn from the poor. That’s surprising isn’t it?

It isn’t that the poor are glamorous, but sometimes they have something to teach us that we never would have thought of on our own.

Often the poor are the most generous. Remember the widow who gave her two pennies?

In Scripture, the poor are often presented as a model of how we ought to be as Christ-followers.

Luke’s version of the Beatitudes begin, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of heaven.” Not “poor in spirit.” That’s Matthew’s version. “You who are poor.”

Now, I think he’s driving at “poor in spirit” because I don’t think that God thinks that poverty is somehow innately more spiritual. If He did, then Agur wouldn’t pray in his inspired proverb, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” He’d just pray, “Lord, make me poor! I want to be blessed!”

But I think that financial poverty drives us to our need for help. Our dependence upon God. And so financial poverty becomes a driving picture of spiritual poverty. We need God. We need help. We are in debt. Help!

That’s why James says in chapter 1. “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. [The rich need to learn this from the poor because it doesn’t seem like it.] For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.”

We need to learn from the poor that we are poor and needy.

Needy of Christ.

The people of Jesus’ day thought the exact opposite. And there are many that think the same today.

The thinking is that if you are rich, if you have possessions, then you are blessed.

And probably that also means that you have a direct line to God. You are more holy, more faith-filled, more godly than someone who isn’t blessed with money and possessions.

Nearly every television preacher seems to have the message.

[I know that there are some good and godly exceptions, but this seems to be the teaching of most television preachers.]

God wants you wealthy, healthy, and prosperous. And if you aren’t, there is something wrong with you and with your faith.

That’s a lie from the pit of hell.

Jesus was poor. Did you ever think about the two doves or the two pigeons that Mary and Joseph gave at Jesus’ dedication at the temple? That was the poor-man’s sacrifice.

Paul had been rich and he had been poor. If Christ-followers are supposed to been rich if they have faith, then Paul was a failure.

It’s actually the opposite in this life. Riches are more dangerous that poverty to us spiritually.

That’s what Jesus was telling the Rich Young Ruler. His story is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Jesus told that man to sell his possession and give to the poor and follow Him.

But the young man walked away said because he had great wealth–actually great wealth had him!

And what did Jesus say? “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And, friends, you and I in this room have riches that that young man couldn’t dream of! Jesus said, “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.”

What a great word picture. Can imagine a great big camel and an itty bitty needle? I can’t even thread a needle, much less, “camel a needle!”

And that turned the disciples’ world upside down.

“You mean being rich isn’t being godly?

Riches are dangerous?”

The disciples were astonished and they said, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Salvation is a work of God. And He does it irrespective of money and possessions.

God does the impossible in saving us.

Jesus died on the Cross to save us from our sins.

He paid the penalty. He paid the debt and redeemed us from our sins.

And He and he alone gives us salvation.

Trust Him for salvation through Jesus Christ!

But money is no barometer of godliness or faith.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

“Lord, Give me neither poverty NOR riches.”

This book, “Beyond Greed” by Brian Rosner, is an excellent and easy to read book about greed and money-loving, and it has a good chapter exposing the heresy of the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel that is so much on television here in America. I recommend it, especially chapter 2.

Money is no barometer of godliness or faith.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

“Lord, Give me neither poverty NOR riches.”

Now, that doesn’t mean that riches are bad, does it?

No. Again and again this Summer, we’ve seen that riches are a good thing. They are, especially in the Old Testament, a picture of the blessings of the age to come!

And God owns all of the wealth in the world. And He’s not tainted by it.

No, money is a good thing. Riches are a good thing in their own place.

But you CAN have too much of a good thing.

What if you do have money? What should you do? What if you do have riches?

Turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 6, verse 17. This is where we’re going to end. I

Here’s where Paul tells Timothy what to tell rich people (like you and me). Let’s read it. 1 Timothy 6, verses 17 through 19.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

A couple of things for the rich:

#1. Be Humble and Hope in God.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God...”

If you have anything in your wallet, remember where it came from.

It’s not because you’re so great that you own this or that.

And don’t hope in it, because it won’t satisfy. It’s here today and gone tomorrow.

But God is trustworthy and is not going anywhere.

And #2. Enjoy Your Money With Thankfulness.

V.17 again, “[Put your] hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

I don’t know if I’ve said this enough during this series, but if you have something, that’s not bad. That’s good! He’s given you that, at least for a time, to be enjoyed.

We tell our kids every day that God has given us good gifts in toys, money, houses, vehicles for two things: To ENJOY and to SHOW LOVE with it.

If God has given you something, then enjoy it!

I’m headed for Philadelphia today and going to be away from my family for five nights. Then home for two nights and away for five nights again.

And this week, God provided for Heather and me an amazing date night with dinner at a great restaurant, tickets to play, babysitting, and trip to Cook Forest. It was awesome.

And then also this week, God provided the funds for my whole family to go together to the Curve game yesterday with the Men’s Ministry Family Outing to the ballgame.

And we all got eat a picnic at Schiefers’ and then watch our hometown boys play at America’ Past-time.

These were gifts from God.

What should I have done with those gifts?

Well, I do need to think about it. Maybe that money should go to something other than myself.

I am in a war, and need a war-time mentality.
There are gospel workers who need funds.
And there are poor people who need cared for and lifted out of poverty.

But, if in faith, I can use those funds for those enjoyable things, then I should do it WITH THANKFULNESS IN MY HEART to God. Who, verse 17, “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

When He does give riches, then I am to thank Him for it, enjoy it, and use it, as I can show love to others. That’s the last bit here in verse 18.

#3. Be Rich in Good Deeds and Invest in Eternity.

V.18 “Command [those who have riches] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves [does that sound familiar? That’s Jesus in Matthew 6 again! Treasures for themselves] as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

If you have riches, then use them in love. Be Rich in Good Deeds and Invest in Eternity.
"Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God."

The Prayer of Agur - Proverbs 30:7-9

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