The Christian, Wealth & Poverty

The Christian, Wealth & Poverty

Text: 1 Timothy 6:17-19 — As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Introduction: In 2018, Harvard Business School undertook a first-of-its-kind study of over 4000 millionaires in the United States asking them about how much money it would take to make them happy. (I have to admit it was a pretty annoying survey that took me a long time to complete – just kidding.) Each millionaire was asked to report how much they currently had… how happy they were on a scale of 1-10… and then how much money they thought they would need to get to a “10” on the happiness scale. Shockingly, 26% said “10x more,” (which was, by the way, the largest possible option given); 24% chose “5x more” followed by 23% at “2x mores.” Only 13% of respondents said they “currently have enough to be happy.” Perhaps most surprising of all, this answer was consistent no matter how much money a person had. This means that someone with 100 million was just as likely as the person with 10 million to select they needed “10x” the amount of money they had to be truly happy. In an interview with The Atlantic, lead researcher Michael Norton suggested that the problem for so many millionaires is comparison. It turns out that the question of happiness is not so much “Do I have enough?” but “Do I have more than those around me?” Norton concluded, “If a family amasses $50 million dollars but moves into a neighborhood where everyone has more money, they still won’t be happy. All the way up the spectrum of wealth, basically everyone says [they’d need at minimum] two or three times as much to be perfectly happy.”What does this mean for the rest of us mere mortals in the financial world? Well, it tells us that the secret to happiness and contentment is not about how much money we have. If it were you would think that every one of these people would be at the top of the happiness scale. The Apostle Paul wrote as much in a well-known verse found in Philippians 4:12where he wrote that contentedness is found in something else altogether — I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Wow! That’s fantastic. To think that there is a source of personal peace and satisfaction that has nothing to do with the amount of money you have! That’s encouraging to say the least. And what is it according to Paul? He goes on to say in verse 13, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” It turns out that faith in Christ and His ability to sustain us in any and every circumstance is the secret to contentment … not how much money we have or lack!
Now, why is this important to us as we begin our ninth message in the series, Hot Topics? Because our subject for this morning is … The Christian, Wealth and Poverty. All anyone has to do is listen to the news or read a few articles on the subject to see that there are sincere people who are very conflicted about the best way to promote prosperity and end poverty in America. The issue at the center of this debate deals with whether or not the rich have the right to hang on to their wealth, or if the government, through higher taxation, should redistribute their money to the poor and thereby lower the gap between them. People like Senator Bernie Sanders are calling for the “downward transfer of wealth of the top 1%,” while President Trump argues that punishing the wealthy for being successful is unfair and unwise. Which one is right or is it possible that they’re both a little off center? This morning I want to address three questions about wealth and poverty that I trust will provide us with a better understanding of what the Bible teaches about both. So, let’s get started.
Three Questions about Wealth and Poverty
Does God want Christians to be prosperous or poor? In Luke 6:13Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money.” Later, He said of the wealthy, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you, 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(Matthew 19:23-24). Now, here’s the question. Are these verses teaching us that God would prefer that His people are poor rather than prosperous? The answer is … no, they are not. They are, however, warning us of some of the dangers of prosperity which we’ll address in just a little bit. It might surprise some of you to learn that God has never been against human beings making a better living for themselves. Even from the beginning, He expected Adam, Eve and their offspring to work toward improving their living conditions. Beginning way back in Genesis(1:28), He said to the first man and woman, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” In saying this, God was giving His divine permission for them to make the natural resources of the earth useful for their own benefit and enjoyment. He expected a man to explore the earth and create(part of what it means to be made in God’s image –Genesis 1:26)products from the all the “stuff” He put in it. God knew that in fulfilling this mandate, human beings would develop agricultural products, domesticate animals, create housing, different modes of transportation and even businesses.  And what did He say of all this? He said it was very good (Genesis 1:31).  Listen, I hope it makes you feel good to realize that God never intended that we would live in caves and barely survive in the poorest of conditions. In fact, the law of love for our neighbors (Matthew 22:39) demands that we work in ways that bring benefits to other people by creating goods and services that make their lives better. This is what the excellent wife of Proverbs 31is commended for: A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies…She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings, she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. Note that she is prosperous and uses the fruit of her labors to bless many and the Bible calls her “noble” or “virtuous” for doing so. What does all of this mean for us? Well, if you’ve been thinking that the poor are better off than those who prosper, the Bible doesn’t agree with you. God always intended that we would seek to improve our standard of living in this world. Illustration: You may find this very interesting. I know I did. It turns out that historically the greater the influence of the Bible on a particular nation, the more prosperity that nation enjoyed as a result. Lawrence Harrison of Tufts University analyzed 117 nations that (1) had over a million people and (2) one clear “majority” religion. Here’s what he discovered. Those countries that were primarily Protestant enjoyed the highest standard of wealth. They were followed in order by Jews, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians, with Confucian, Buddhist and Islamic peoples coming in last. Other studies have confirmed this as well. Why is this the case? Professor David Landes of Harvard says, “The heart of the matter lay indeed in the making of a new kind of man—rational, ordered, diligent and productive. Perhaps you’ve heard of the phrase … the Protestant work ethic? These virtues, while not new, were hardly commonplace(except in the lives of Bible-believing people).” This is what Christianity does! It makes us into new creatures with a whole new set of priorities that include living out the mandate given by God to our first parents … to be fruitful and multiply … fill the earth and subdue it. So, let’s be clear. God never intended us to be poor but expected human beings to prosper!
What are the dangers of prosperity and poverty?While it’s true that God did create us to pursue material prosperity, we all recognize that wealth carries with it some inherent dangers. Listen to these warnings from Scripture about the potential pitfalls of loving money. (1) Luke 9:25 – What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul for what can a man give in exchange for his soul. Obviously, there are more important pursuits than making a lot of money. (2) In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus told a parable about a self-made man who became very wealthy but gradually ignored God in the process. Jesus said of 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 anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” We all know that wealth can bring with it a certain amount of self-centeredness (which just so happens to be a good definition of sin by the way) with our only interest being in protecting and growing it. Jesus told this parable to warn us that there is room for only one on the throne of our lives. And while we can and will walk with Jesus into eternity, we will not take our earthly treasures along for the ride. In fact, I have done I’ve done over one hundred funerals in my life and I have never seen the hearse towing a U-Haul trailer. (3) Here’s one for you from the Old Testament — Deuteronomy 8:10-14– (God speaking to Israel about their inheritance of the land the flowed with milk and honey and was promised to their forefathers beginning with Abraham) — When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. God was reminding Israel that it is human nature to forget Him when we feel no need to rely on Him. That’s why it’s hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. He doesn’t see His need for Jesus at all. AND HERE ARE A COUPLE OF DANGERS OF POVERTY BESIDES THE OBVIOUS (NOT HAVING ENOUGH FOOD TO EAT OR A LACK OF SHELTER FROM THE ELEMENTS)?  (1)  Living in poverty, like acquiring great wealth, can become a source of pride (I’m not into materialism like everyone else!) when in fact, it may be a cover-up for laziness (All hard work leads to profit but mere talk only leads to poverty – Proverbs 14:23) or foolishly spending what God has provided without forethought about the best way to manage your money (The plans of the diligent leads to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty – Proverbs 21:5). (2) On the other end are those who are poor but have come to believe that the acquisition of material things is the only source of true happiness. This happens more than we care to admit, despite the fact that Paul told Timothy not to set his hope on the uncertainty of riches but in the living God. I know I fell prey to this temptation in my teenage years. Illustration: When I was growing up, my family of eight lived in a forty-foot-long mobile home. We were poor compared to our neighbors. In fact, I have no memory of ever going out to eat at a restaurant with my family or going on a vacation with them, two things that most of us do today with regularity. That’s why, when my pastor asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said, “Rich.” I was sick of having to give excuses to my friends about why I couldn’t join them in doing something that cost more than a few dollars. I came to believe a great lie in the process. That if somehow I could get acquire a lot of stuff, my life would be full and meaningful.  I continued to believe that until my pastor challenge me to write a paper for an English assignment on a song by Simon and Garfunkel called “Richard Cory.” It starts out, “They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town. With political connections to spread his wealth around. Born into society a banker’s only child, he had everything a man could want power grace and style. But I … I work in his factory. And I curse the life I’m living and I curse my poverty. And I wish that I could be, oh I wish that I could be, yes I wish that I could be … Richard Cory. The papers they would follow him, everywhere he’d go. Richard Cory at the opera. Richard Cory at a show. And the rumors of his parties and the orgies on his yacht … oh, surely he must be happy with everything he’s got. But I … I work in his factory. And I curse the life I’m living and I curse my poverty. And I wish that I could be, oh I wish that I could be, yes I wish that I could be … Richard Cory. He freely gave to charity. He had the common touch and they were grateful for his patronage and they thanked him very much. So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headline read, ‘Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.’ Because of I … I work in his factory. And I curse the life I’m living and I curse my poverty. And I wish that I could be, oh I wish that I could be, yes I wish that I could be … Richard Cory.”
What can be done to help lift people out of poverty? Believe it or not, poverty can only be solved by increased prosperity, not by reducing economic inequality that results from taking more from the rich to give to the poor. There’s a simple reason why this is so. Prosperity (the kind that comes as a blessing from God) is the fruit of a productive economic system that leads to increased wealth for a nation. Anytime we simply redistribute the money instead of developing our resources to earn more, the only thing we’ve accomplished is making some poorer in order to make others richer. Ultimately, that kind of system can never lift a nation out of poverty. And we have to do is look to communist and socialist countries to see that it’s true. This should never be our approach. Instead, because we recognize that God intended for mankind to subdue the earth and enjoy His material blessings, we should follow these principles found in His word.
·     Work hard for yourself and your family. Earned success provides greater human dignity and fulfillment than simply receiving aid from others. That’s why Paul told the church at Ephesus (4:28) — He who has been stealing must steal no longer but must work, doing something useful with his own hands. Good, hard work is its own reward because it means you doing something productive that will bless not only you but those you love. Scripture tells us that the man who refuses to work should be made to go hungry (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and that a man who does not provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). Those are two good reasons for us to get to work and increase our standard of living.
·     Do what the Bible says with your money. Sometimes, God withholds financial blessing because we are poor managers of what He does provide. Here are five financial priorities that the Bible says God blesses.
o   Give to the Lord(Malachi 3:8-11).
o   Pay your taxes(Romans 13:7 — If you owe taxes, pay your taxes).
o   Support yourself and your family(1 Timothy 5:8)
o   Save for a rainy day(Proverbs 30:24-25 — Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer).
o   Share with others(The rich are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. Randy Alcorn, in his blog, “Where’s Your Heart” suggests that we think about our monetary investments a little differently as Christians. He writes, “Suppose you buy shares of General Motors. What happens? You suddenly develop an interest in GM. You check the financial pages. You see a magazine article about GM and read every word, even though a month ago you would have passed right over it. Suppose you’re giving to help African children with AIDS. When you see an article on the subject, you’re hooked. If you’re sending money to plant churches in India and an earthquake hits India, you watch the news and fervently pray … Do you wish you cared more about eternal things? Then reallocate some of your money, maybe most of your money, from temporal things to eternal things. Put your resources, your assets, your money and possessions, your time and talents and energies into the things of God. Watch what happens. As surely as the compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure. Money leads; hearts follow.” Randy Alcorn; “Where’s Your Heart?” Eternal Perspectives Ministry blog (5-11-16).
·     Seek God first and foremost in your life(Matthew 6:33 – Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you). Get your spiritual priorities right and watch how God meets your needs as you trust in Him.