“What would you do if tomorrow you were given millions of dollars?”
I’ve always loved that question. It’s a fun way to start a conversation with someone, and is a creative way to learn more about their dreams, desires, and what they really value. We all like to dream what it would be like to have a virtually bottomless bank account, right? Imagine being able to buy anything you wanted, whenever you wanted? Want to take a trip to Paris? No problem. Want the newest iPhone coming out? Easy. Brand new cars, comfortable homes, fun adventures, trendy clothes, exquisite food – all of it would be at your fingertips. Doesn’t that sound nice?
And, think about this: imagine never having to deal with all of the stress and worry that comes when money is tight? Some of you live in a home that always is stressed out about money. I grew up in a home like that. My parents always seemed to be arguing about money, and we never seemed to have enough of it. I remember growing up thinking that if we just had more money, all of our problems would go away.
The allure of money, however, is not reserved for those who are raised in low-income homes. I don’t make a ton of money now by any means, but I do live at a level of comfort that I never could have dreamed of when I was a kid.
And sadly, I still feel that same pull. If I just had a little more money, things would really shape up – life would really be better.
This is because my problem has nothing to do with the cash I have in my wallet, but the greed that lives in my heart. “Greed” is a sin that we don’t really think about much, and whenever we do think about it, we think of fat-cat bankers, stuffing their pockets with our hard-earned money. But greed is not that simple. It can look like the Wall Street broker in a fancy suit, stepping out of a limo – or, it can look like the quiet craving of “just a little more, just a little more money and I’d be okay.” Friends, we need to be aware of this – it is probably arrogant for us to live in a culture that is drenched in the sin of greed, and think it doesn’t affect us.
So, for the rest of my talk, I want to give you a practical way to begin to escape the snare of the enemy. We need to see why the life of greed is ugly, and why the life of obedience to Christ is far, far more beautiful. My thesis is this: A life of greedy gain, is a life worth losing.
We are Rich
Now, as we move forward to talk about this, we need to put things in perspective. Many of us would not consider ourselves “rich”. There is always someone else we could look to and say, “They are the rich ones!” But we must remind ourselves of just how privileged we really are.
“If we have running water, shelter over our heads, clothes to wear, food to eat, and some means of transportation (even if it’s public transportation), then we are in the top 15 percent of the world’s people for wealth” (Radical, Platt, 114-15).
“If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy” (Money, Possessions & Eternity, Alcorn, 291).
When the Bible describes those who are “wealthy” or “rich”, it is talking about us. Which should be sobering, because Jesus specifically mentions that is with great difficulty that the rich will be able to enter into the Kingdom (Matt. 19:24). So, as we listen to the Scripture today, let’s remember that this is addressing us.
The text in James isn’t necessarily the happiest sounding passage, is it? James tells us that the rich should be “weeping and howling” for what is coming. That sounds like the exact opposite of reality – in life, it seems like the poor who are constantly weeping, while the rich laugh. In fact, that is one of the appeals of money, isn’t it? Money promises us that we can be happy, no matter what. That may sound a little ridiculous for us to say out loud, but if we were honest with ourselves, that’s kind of how we really feel. Money will guarantee us that we can have the things that make us happy, and keep the things that make us unhappy at bay. It gives us the illusion of control.
But James says the exact opposite is going to happen to the wealthy. The rich are going to be the ones crying out. He goes on to say that their wealth has “rotted and (their) garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded,” (5:2-3). James says that money is not a good long-term investment. He acknowledges that they have plenty of gold and silver, which would have afforded them to live a comfortable, luxurious lifestyle – but there will be a day when none of that matters anymore. James is trying to show us: this life isn’t worth it. Jesus simply explains, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Jesus is stressing that even if you were the most successful person in the entire world, and had countries and multi-billion dollar businesses answering to you – and lose your soul, you got the short end of the stick. It’s not worth it. The world is going to burn – but your soul will live on forever. Don’t put all your stock in something that is just going to be destroyed.
Not only that, James says that when we die, our greedy wealth that we gained will actually condemn us, “and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days” (James 5:3). James is echoing Jesus’ teaching on money, where Jesus warns us not to lay up treasure here on earth, because here “moth and rust destroy” (Matt. 6:19). Jesus encourages us all to instead live for the Kingdom and invest in a hope that is beyond this earth. James says that all the wealth that we hoarded, will not only rot and corrode, but will stand as “evidence” against us on the final Day of Judgment. It will act as a witness in court, screaming out your guilt and condemnation. James later compares this to cows being fattened for the day of slaughter (5:5).
In the Disney movie, Aladdin, Aladdin is sent into the Cave of Wonders to retrieve a magic lamp, but before entering he is warned not to touch anything else in the cave. Once inside, Aladdin and his little monkey Abu discover that cave is full of mountains and mountains of treasure. Remember, Aladdin and Abu have lived their whole lives as thieves, so this is very tempting, especially for little Abu. As soon as Aladdin finds the lamp, Abu’s eyes fall on a gigantic jewel, twice the size of himself, and lo and behold, he fails to resist himself and lunges after it. Only, as soon as he hugs his treasure, the cave begins to shake and erupts in fire, and all of the treasure melts into molten lava. That’s what James is saying is going to happen to all of our most beloved treasures – that thing that we feel so desperate to have, is going to rust over and fall apart. It’s all going to burn, someday. It isn’t worth it – a life of greedy gain, is a life worth losing.
But that doesn’t feel true, does it? Why not?
Because, greed is a blinding sin, and it is never satisfied – we just need more. In fact, the specific group of the “rich” that James is talking about is those who are so consumed with having more, that they have made themselves wealthy by stealing money from people they owed (5:4). They promised to pay their workers a certain wage, then gave them less than they promised – why? So they could live a life of “luxury and self-indulgence” (5:5) at the expense of those they are extorting – they needed to gain more, at any cost. They are an example of what happens when greed takes over.
Losing our Life
Now, if a life of greedy gain, is a life worth losing because James showed us that what we “gain” is rottenness, guilt, unfulfilled desires, and condemnation, then what does a life look like when we surrender that over? Let’s look at 1 Timothy 6:17-19 to show us:
- A life of Joy:
“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” (1 Tim. 6:17)
Paul warns Timothy, as numerous other passages in the Bible do, of the incredible temptation of riches. Paul sees wealth as an “uncertain” basis for hope – rather, he encourages us to hope in God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. Isn’t that amazing. That sounds like the exact promise that money makes us, doesn’t it? Get more of me, and I’ll provide you with joy. Paul says “No, no, no, no, – it is God who is the fountain of all joy! Not money! You can’t trust in money! Trust in the Almighty, unchanging, eternal God.” Money tries to set itself up as a pseudo-god in our hearts, and we need the real living God to expel it with His superior joy!
This is important for us to know, friends: God desires you to have joy, in all things. He richly provides for us so that would be so. You could be tempted to walk out of here and just feel really guilty that you have wealth – but remember, God has richly provided everything, including the riches that you have, for your joy! “Greed” is the sinful perversion of how we are intended to use our money – but that doesn’t mean that having money immediately is a wicked thing. No – not at all, God has given it to us for our joy. So, here’s what it boils down to: I can use my money in such a way that feeds my selfish, indulgent greediness, OR I can use my money in such a way that leads to joy in the Lord! Imagine if from now on, whenever you received money you asked yourself, “How might I use this to deepen my joy in the Lord?” Paul is going to help show us what that looks like in the next verse.
- A life of generosity:
“They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18).
“They”, being the rich, being you and I, are to be “rich” in good works – to be generous and ready to share what God has blessed us with. A life marked by generosity is the life of joy. Jesus himself taught us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I wonder if you have ever really thought about that – Jesus is making a radical statement there. He is saying that when we give, when we are generous, we are happier than when we are receiving. There is more joy to be a generous giver, than a greedy taker. The life of greedy gain, is a life worth losing – it just doesn’t compare to the joy we have in being radically generous.
Now, you may be thinking, “Marc, I don’t have any money to be generous with.” That may be true – but here is what I do know: you are making fundamental life decisions right now of the kind of person you are going to be. Why not resolve, right now, that you will not buy into the lie of the American dream, that you need a huge house, with brand new cars, and a ton of credit card debt to be happy? Why not resolve, right now, that you will choose to live with one foot in the Kingdom of God, using your money to help bring the Kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven. And, while you may not have much, you probably do have some, and he who is faithful with little…
We are going to watch a short video in just a second, but we are going to give you an opportunity not to just think about this, but to put it into practice. Earlier in James, we read, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). Right now, our global community is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since the second World War. Over 11 million Syrian refugees have been driven from their homes because of a four yearlong civil war, and the recent rise of ISIS. Take a look at what this experience looks like from the viewpoint of one of the most vulnerable targets in this ugly affair, a child:
This war has claimed over 200,000 lives thus far, with the majority of those being civilians and children. Millions have fled and are now seeking safety in European countries, but the journey is far from safe. Many have no transportation and are making the journey on foot, allowing them only to take the supplies they can carry on their backs. Tens of thousands of refugees have tried to be smuggled across the Mediterranean sea to reach Europe’s shores, only to drown. This is where the gut-wrenching image of the body of the two-year old Syrian toddler, washed ashore on the beaches of Turkey, came from.
Over the next three weeks, we are going to be asking you to be raising money to donate to Samaritan’s Purse through two ways: you can raise money through whatever means you are able to and bring it in here, or you can go to this website https://www.bonfirefunds.com/refugee-relief and buy a t-shirt or sweatshirt, and the proceeds will be donated to Samaritan’s Purse.
Why would we live like this? Why would we do this?
- A Life worth living:
“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” (1 Tim. 6:19).
Paul tells us that life of extravagant generosity is the life that is “truly life”. God did not design us to be self-centered beings – He designed us to love Him and love other people, and when we love others and they are in need, we will sacrifice and give. We were not created to ask “What can we spare”, but we were created to ask, “What will it take?” What will it take for us to aid our brothers and sisters in the middle-east? Those are the questions we should be asking.
We know that Paul is right on the money here because two-thousand years ago, the perfect man, the God-man, Jesus Christ came down and lived the perfect life. The life that we all should living, but all to often are not. And Jesus, with all of His heavenly riches at His disposal, demonstrated the fullness of life through radical, over-the-top, mind-blowing generosity. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus bankrupted himself, so that you and I could be lifted out of our spiritual poverty, and inherit His heavenly treasure. Friends, if we have received such glorious generosity, then we should joyfully follow in His footsteps. A life of greedy gain is most definitely worth losing – and in losing that sad excuse of life, we will discover the life that is truly worth keeping.