Handling Our Finances
David gave this talk at the Kings Arms Church (Bedford) in 2015, as part of their "Simplify" series. Click here to download the audio version.
- The simplest Biblical statement of the issue of our attitude to money is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi – a poor yet generous church commended for this in letters Paul wrote to other churches.
“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.” Philippians 4 : 12
- This was Paul’s attitude to his possessions.
- This verse has caused one commentator to describe Paul as “the happiest man on earth”. If we’ve learnt the secret of being content in every circumstance then that is true happiness.
THE STORY: Luke 12:13-34
- One of the largest crowds, Jesus had ever preached to. Probably many thousands, almost a riot as people trampled on one another.
- Jesus started instructing His followers with the crowd listening. He was teaching on the seriousness of the Kingdom of God. He said, “Don’t fear those who can kill the body. Live a life that will keep you free from hell. Don’t fear because God values you so much that he even counts the hairs on your head!”
- As he was talking, there was a commotion in the crowd. A man pushed through dragging along his reluctant older brother. He interrupts Jesus and demands you are a Rabbi – my brother will not share my inheritance with me. Tell him to do so. What’s all this about then? When an inheritance was left, the happiest position was when sons could share it together and continue to work the land without dividing it up – see Psalm 133:1 - “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”.
- The issue of ownership and use of land was problem no. 1 in the Middle East. It still is. When it could not be shared then it had to be divided up but this was very much second best. For example, Abraham and Lot. Abraham showed real generosity and did not claim his rights.
- Jesus answered. Not my job to sort out inheritance rights; your attitude is more important.
- Jesus refused a major temptation here to:
- Operate outside his role and give an opinion on a “second best” issue – not a “divider” – often Rabbis would make these sort of decisions but Jesus refused that role.
- To listen to one side of the story and come to a quick judgement based on partial facts.
- To give in to the “rights culture” (to use 21st century language).
- He then told a story. There was a rich man. One year ground produced even more crops than usual and he was rich anyway! He talked to himself and said, I’ve got nowhere to put my surplus but I must keep it for myself. I know, I’ll pull down my barn and build bigger ones then I’ll just relax and say to myself “you’ve got loads stored up – it will last you for years. Take it easy and eat, drink and have some fun.” Then God said, “You fool. Tonight you will die and then who will get everything you’ve worked for?”
- Jesus then explained to his disciples, that’s what it’s like if you store up material possessions but forget about God. God is Lord of everything including all your finances.
- Then he talked to His disciples again – Don’t worry about food and clothes. Look at the ravens. You are more valuable than them. Yet they have enough to eat. Worrying is no use, you can’t even add an hour to your life or a few centimetres to your height by worrying. Look at the flowers. They are more beautiful than Solomon. Yet what value are these meadow flowers when the hay is cut for fuel, they burn too! If God clothes flowers which are so temporary, he’ll certainly clothe you – you “little faith people”!
- The pagan people of the world who don’t trust God, they pursue all these possessions. Your Father knows you need them. Put His rule in your life first and then you’ll have clothes and food enough.
- What matters is your heart – what do we really treasure? Is it heavenly qualities or possessions? Your heart will be where your treasure is.
WHAT IS ALL THIS TEACHING US?
- Life does not equal possessions. Today’s philosophy is that what you own is really what is important about you. Status symbols, house, car etc. These differ from culture to culture but things are often what give us honour.
- The excess here to his man came because the land produced more than usual. It was just a blessing. It wasn’t because of his skill that that year there was good rainfall, good sunshine and the land produced. In fact usually this is the case – yes, we may work hard but any extra is a blessing. It could be because of your family background, or the way the financial markets work that year or the fact, in the case of footballers, that you have gifted feet!
- His possessions had already made him lonely. He had to have a discussion with himself. This would have been like a joke to Jesus’ hearers because this was not the normal way in the Middle East where everything is discussed corporately. If a man had to make a decision on what to do with excess produce, normally he would sit down with the other men of the village and discuss it for hours on end. So he was a very lonely man already.
- The Bible actually gives two motivations for hard work and earning money:
- So as not to be a burden to others (1 Thess 2:7-12) e. provide for yourself and your family.
- So that you can give to those in need – “If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.” Eph 4:28.
- So our possessions are to bless others with but the Rich Man was only thinking of himself and his own plans so that he could enjoy himself.
- It doesn’t come out in the translations but there’s a play on words here:
- Euphoreo – bring forth lots of fruit – the ground does that!
- Euphraineo – make merry, enjoy yourself
- Euphros – self enjoyment
- Aphros – fool – strongest New Testament word : sheer stupidity.
- There’s a further play on words. The man talks to his “soul”. “And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry”. But God said to him ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” Luke 12:19-20 (NASB).
- Your soul is required i.e. it is only lent to you for a short time – repayment is due and that cannot be met with money! When our soul is required of us we can only claim the righteousness of Christ and the forgiveness that comes from the death of Christ on the cross.
- Then the conclusion of the parable is to ask whether there is room for God or only for your possessions. Today we are reaching out to a materialistic culture – television programmes, advertising and the popular magazines love to show excess.
HOW SHOULD DISCIPLES OF JESUS REGARD FINANCES AND POSSESSIONS?
- Being without God but with possessions leads to great danger and moreover is stupid! Don’t be stupid?
- Without worry (v22) – because God feeds the birds (v24) – he will also feed us. Worrying does not work anyway (V25).
- With contentment – sometimes through God’s blessing we have plenty, sometimes life’s a struggle that we can face in faith.
- Knowing our value in the sight of God (V24). He loves us and will provide what we need – whether that is a lot or a little.
- With faith – trusting God who clothes the flowers. Instead of being those of “little faith” (V28). Faith is often tested not in the big things of life but in the ordinary things of life like possessions and finances. Faith is both general (we can trust God) and also involves listening to God for specific directions.
- Unlike the pagans. Because of our knowledge of a God who know what we need and works for our best (V30).
- By putting God’s Kingdom purposes and values before possessions (V31). What does this mean?
- His Kingdom reflects God’s nature – he is generous to all. We are therefore generous with what we have. This was illustrated in Old Testament commands not to pick all the grapes, or all the apples, or all the wheat.
- Think of others and bless them – rather than standing up for our rights like the man who asked the question.
- Like God, his kingdom blesses the poor and stands up for their rights rather than demanding our own.
- Pursuit of God and blessing others comes ahead of personal convenience or money making.
- If we are to challenge a materialistic world, we must live like disciples and not like the world. Sharing our lives is included in that.
- Jesus told stories to deal with complex issues in a simple and subtle way which left people wanting to hear more even if they knew they were being indirectly challenged. It is easier to challenge people with a story.
- Whether we handle our finances with faith, generosity and contentment is a good test of how we are living out the Kingdom now. Often we see living out the Kingdom as healings, deliverance etc and so it is. However we can demonstrate it in simple things like how we show generosity to others.