The Justification of Ungodly Wealth

Here are the outline and audio recording of a sermon I preached in October.

  1. Introduction
    1. All familiar with Francis Chan
    2. Should be, pastor who gives and sends and loves, author of Crazy Love
    3. Ran across an article on him on the Internet
    4. “Francis Chan Runs Out of Things To Give Away”
      Eric Horton, Chief Generosity Officer of the Crazy Love Foundation, a nonprofit started by popular speaker and Bible teacher Francis Chan, confirmed Wednesday that Mr. Chan had finally given away the very last of his earthly possessions.
      The landmark moment reportedly occurred at the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship rummage sale, which was organized to raise funds for an upcoming short term mission trip to an unnamed third-world region.
      “[Chan] just started scratching his head, and throwing his hands up into the air,” reported local man Brandon Reuben, who happened to be at the rummage sale looking for a lightly used Pyrex glass measuring cup. “At one point, he shouted, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and began to weep loudly.”
      A destitute and despondent Chan was seen wandering the streets of San Francisco after the sale, unsure of what to do with himself. Borrowing a stranger’s phone, he sent a text to his good friend David Platt to share the news, who reportedly replied, “It is finished.” At publishing time, Chan was racked with guilt over the shirt and pants he was wearing, praying for God to guide him to someone he could offer them to.
      Babylon Bee
    5. Foolish kid to preach on money from Luke 16:1-15
    6. Parable of the unjust steward, though “unrighteous manager” in my translation
    7. Interpret the difficult parable, examine a theology of money, see just what Christ’s work does to our use of it
  2. Interpreting the Parable
    1. Read the text, Luke 16:1-15
    2. Note basic storyline
      1. Steward squandered resources
      2. Called to account by master
      3. Used remaining time to reduce invoices
      4. Used goodwill to prepare his future
      5. Congratulated by master
    3. Question: what did the steward do in 6-7?
    4. Possible answers
      1. Cooked books
      2. Cut out master’s unlawful interest (note rates)
      3. Cut out commission
      4. Cut out personally added interest, favored, explains response from Jesus and master
    5. To unpack meaning: setup like parable of wicked tenants, talents, and the like
    6. God is master, steward is Israel, especially the elites
    7. Steward was unfaithful to what God had given, as was Israel with their covenant blessings and especially the elites with material wealth
    8. So what does the steward do? Sacrifices wealth in generosity to secure his future before it’s too late
    9. Commended by master for his astute (side note on meaning, “practical intelligence”) plan
    10. Pharisees and elites are ironically (or covenantally) “sons of light”
    11. Jesus warns them to flee their love of money, giving up their dishonest gain like the steward
    12. They claim to serve the master, God, while serving mammon, but they must choose one
    13. Jesus has come to announce their removal unless they repent
    14. Their love of money has kept others in poverty and isolation (cf. rich man and Lazarus)
    15. These poor outcasts are entering the Kingdom with eternal homes before the “godly” Pharisees
    16. Jesus tells them: repent!
    17. Like the rich young ruler, give away your money to the poor (make friends for yourselves)
    18. Then these who are entering the Kingdom first will welcome them as well
  3. Theology of money and its justification
    1. Here Jesus gives a picture of money as a liability (rich man, eye of a needle)
    2. Of money: “For what is highly admired by people is revolting in God’s sight.”
    3. Not poverty-works
    4. Richness implies lack of generosity (cite Francis Chan)
    5. James loaded with critical statements about the rich
    6. There are three possible views on money
      1. Naturally good but dangerous
      2. Naturally neutral but corrupting
      3. Naturally corrupt but useful
    7. Jesus seems to give in general but especially this parable credence to the last or strong middle
    8. Unrighteous mammon, dishonest wealthy, unjust money
    9. Money and wealth are deeply intertwined with injustice
    10. This becomes more true as money is more separated from sustenance
    11. Examples from economy
      1. Corruption in Fed
      2. Businesses that abuse labor in countries like China
      3. Abortion tangles
      4. Financial companies predation
      5. Money can accomplish any evil
    12. James portrays rich unflatteringly
    13. Overall portrayal is something as dangerous as One Ring
    14. Differs from OT
      1. OT showed wealth as blessing
      2. Dangers still evident but less prominent
      3. Flesh and eschatology
      4. Eschatological point ties to parable
      5. Time in OT exposed dangers of money, like Torah
    15. Money gone in age to come
    16. Powerful, corrupting liability in this age
    17. Even benefiting from money is tainted
  4. Justification and Sanctification
    1. Justification by grace through faith applies to money
    2. We can’t disentangle ourselves from the corruption in earthly wealth
    3. We entrust our resources to Christ in faith
    4. Thus He justifies our financial lives
    5. We find wealth justified by faith, but without works faith is dead
    6. James reference multilayered: James treats charity as greatest work
    7. Entrust wealth to Christ by giving it to people He identifies with
      1. “When one has pity on the poor, he lends to God. And he who gives to the least, gives to God. These are spiritual sacrifices to God, an odor of a sweet smell…By almsgiving to the poor, we are lending to God. When it is given to the least, it is given to Christ. Therefore, there are no grounds for anyone preferring earthly things to heavenly—nor for considering human things before divine.” Cyprian
    8. This act of giving is purified in Christ’s self-giving
    9. We become Christ’s hands and feet
    10. In giving ungodly wealth in turned into divine blessing, just as Cross turned to salvation
    11. Connects to early church belief about atoning alms
      1. Clement of Alexandria said, “One purchases immortality for money.”
      2. “When you can do good, do not hesitate. For ‘alms delivers from death.'” Polycarp
    12. Whatever deficiencies, this language highlights the Biblical theme
    13. Justified by faith, faith itself is justified by works, particularly giving
    14. In Christ our ungodly wealth is redeemed and justified by faith, that we may present it to God a holy sacrifice
    15. Therefore we are commanded to give, give, give, as Christ gave, that our wealth might not be a source of corruption but of blessing
    16. Don’t be like greedy Pharisees, but be like wise steward
    17. Don’t hold on to money
    18. God will give grace through our offering
    19. Communion is similar: money bought bread and juice to become a means of grace in receiving Christ through faith
The Justification of Ungodly Wealth

Will We Apply “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” to Our Wallets?

“This is the most important,” Jesus answered:
Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.

“The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.” 

The second greatest rule of Christian life is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Indeed, this rule is barely distinguishable from the first and greatest rule, since to love God is also to love those whom He has made and loves Himself. As Paul says, if we have everything else but do not have love, we have nothing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “as yourself” part, though. We’re not just called to treat our neighbors well, to be nice and kind, even a bit sacrificial, and not mean. More than all of that, we are called to love our neighbors with the same kind of interest and concern with which we love ourselves. The rule could be restated: “Whatever you do to benefit yourself, be sure to do that same kind of thing to benefit others.” And while this restatement may get “amens,” we usually fail miserably to actually implement and follow it in our daily decisions.

This seems to be especially the case when it comes to money and possessions. I don’t know about you, but I find that I rarely spend my money on other people in anywhere near the same way that I spend it on myself. Take one simple example. Say you have an old cell phone, and you want to upgrade. You buy a nice new phone, and give your old phone away to a friend. That’s nice, but what if you thought proactively about treating your friend as you would yourself? What if you did the radical opposite of this situation?

What if you did this instead? You think you want a new phone. But your old phone still works. You would just like a nicer phone. At the same time, you know your friend would like a nicer phone. So instead of buying a fancy new phone for yourself, you buy the phone for your friend and keep your old phone. That’s what you would do for yourself, so why not do it for others?

This kind of thing, spending money and using possessions for others as much as you would do for yourself, presses itself upon my mind often. Obviously, you can’t treat yourself and everyone else exactly equally, because your means can’t support every family on earth. You need to apportion enough to yourself to sustain yourself, otherwise you can’t give help anyone. But once you have what you need, what justifies spending more on yourself than others? What gives you more a right to your money and possessions than other people, especially those in need?

Loving other people as yourself means being willing to do for others things you would usually only bother doing for yourself. That includes the way you spend money. If you would buy a new car for yourself, then if you can truly afford it why not do so for someone who needs one even more than you do, or equally?

This is radical. This is hard. This is not something any of us will probably ever succeed in truly living up to. Yet we can take steps. Next time you want to go out to eat, why not give someone else a gift card? Next time you think about unnecessarily upgrading your phone, why not upgrade someone else’s? The possibilities are endless. It should all make sense if we really love our neighbors as ourselves.

Again, as always, I repeat that we don’t have to sacrifice all goods for ourselves. But still. Just think. Let both extremes plague you until you settle into a good pattern. I pray that for me as well.

Will We Apply “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” to Our Wallets?

Going out to Eat for Pure Religion

Ashley and I always feel compelled by the reality of the world and the grace of the Gospel to give.  We simply don’t see a way out. Scripture teaches generosity, and not only that. It also teaches care for those in need, justice for those oppressed, and mercy to those suffering. All of these causes can be advanced through giving as well, further prompting us to see generosity as an inescapable call.

Recently, we were looking for a place to give to, particularly one which helps orphans. After all, according to James, “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world” (Jas. 1:27). If this is the case, how can we neglect to help them? But anyway, while searching for a good organization, we found the Global Orphan Project (or GO Project, for short). They do lots of orphan care around the world, both in the US and internationally. They connect with churches and do wonderful ministries. So we decided we should donate to them.

But then we saw an option to start a project. We had the option to start our own fundraising project to help orphans through their organization and website! How awesome! The project we started is called “Dine for Health.” Here’s the description from our project page:

In America, about 58% of families go out to eat at least once a week. In 2013, Americans spent over $700 billion at restaurants around the country. That’s a lot of money, averaging almost $7 per person per day. 

So what if we could redirect just a sliver of that massive flow of cash somewhere…better? What if that kind of money could give orphans fresh water, health care, and a clean place to sleep? Well, it actually can.

Through the Global Orphan Project, my wife Ashley and I want to help out with these basic needs. How? With a plea and a challenge. We ask this:

Would you consider matching every dollar you spend eating out for the next month with a donation to our project?

Every penny of the proceeds will go straight to work. The GO Project’s Health and Safety fund works to provide village orphans in several countries with clean water, medical care, sanitary living conditions, and pretty much everything else the kids need to stay healthy and safe.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. I hope you’ll consider helping this project. It is a way to follow Christ, after all. For whatever you don’t do to the least of these, you don’t do to Him. And then there’s this:

“What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.” James 1:27

Get the idea? Here’s what we’re asking. Every time you go out to eat from now until August 31, add up your totals. Then donate that amount to our project, which will go straight to the GO Project Health & Safety fund to provide for orphan care. Interested? I do hope so. Here’s the link:

Dine for Health GO Project

Going out to Eat for Pure Religion

A Better Reason to Work Hard

Work hard, make money, live the American Dream. Sound good? That’s the normal philosophy of middle class people in our rather rich nation. The point of work in our Western, individualist culture is to make money that we can use to get a nice house (eventually a dream house), fill the house with nice goodies, and live a comfortable life. This basic assumption is often carried over without second thought into Christian circles. But I want today to give two Biblical reasons to work, emphasizing one of them in particular.

As I can see, there are two main reasons to work from a perspective set on the Kingdom of God. The first is simple: to enable us with our money to maintain quiet lives for ourselves and our families. We have basic needs like food, clothes, and shelter, and if we want to do anything for God’s Kingdom these needs must be met. In God’s providence, He usually gives these to us through a job. So we must work. Proverbs is full of such affirmations of work as how we get our provisions (Prov. 12:11, 12:14, 16:26, 28:19), while Scripture is clear that even what we get from work is from God (Ps. 34:10, Prov. 10:3, Matt. 6:25-34). This especially important when you have a family to take care of, since God truly values family.

But there is another and, I daresay, a higher reason to work hard. What is this reason? I’ll let Paul explain:

The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.

Ephesians 4:28

While the thief’s repentance is the first point of the verse, I don’t think saying this applies to us all would be a stretch. Why should we do honest work with our own hands? So we have something to share with anyone in need.

The significance of this cannot be understated in my opinion. I don’t know about you, but in practice I mostly work to pay my own bills, build my little guy a college fund, and save for a rainy day. All of these have something in common: they do not go beyond my own household, which is in no danger of real poverty. If all else failed, my wife and I have very awesome and supportive families to fall back on.

Not everyone is so blessed. Many people have no fallback. They are broke and alone. Around the world people starve and live in landfills. Many people are bound by slavery, oppressive governments, or excessive debt. Some people are in trouble by their own fault, some are innocent victims, though they are all in need either way. This world is filled with “anyone in need.”

So when we work, we can’t do so only concerned with ourselves, but also others (Phil. 2:4). When we earn money, we should not only spend our earnings for ourselves but for others. Our financial goals should not be just about our own families, but also about poorer families. Sometimes a penny saved should be a penny given, and instead of merely seeking to build up our retirement and vacation funds, we have to consider all the people out there who don’t even have funds for groceries.

Not only should we think of these things and do them, but they should motivate us. Paul did not say to work and to share, but to work so we can share. The kind of love God calls us to in the Gospel of His Son is so radical that it demands (and creates!) the transformation of our priorities and interests. Jesus says to become deeply concerned with others, not merely to act that way.

So let everyone work not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

A Better Reason to Work Hard

How Serious Was Jesus About Sharing?

Sharing. This is one of the first lessons we are taught as children. Yet this lesson is also one of the first that we forget. We may not think so, but sharing is something we really don’t do well, at least how that Jesus asked us to. Let’s see what He had to say: 

Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 

Matthew 5:42 

Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away…And if you lend to those from whom you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 

Luke 6:30, 33-34 

We’ve heard this stuff a hundred times before, but how much do we really get it? Let’s look at what our Lord actually said, with emphasis on the crazy parts. 

Don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 

Give to everyone who asks you. 

Do not ask for your possessions back. 

Lend, expecting nothing back. 

So, according to Jesus, we have to give to everyone who asks for something. Is that practical? No. What about possible? I don’t know. But God said so, anyway. There might be a little bit of hyperbole involved, but even though there may be exceptions, this should definitely be our guiding rule for when people ask stuff from us. 

Does this apply to everyone you see on the side of the road with a cardboard sign? What about every call for a special offering? These are real possibilities that we have to consider. Even in the mundane, can we refuse to share a cookie or a noodle? I’m not sure we can. 

In addition, when people just take our stuff, we aren’t supposed to bother trying to get it back. Does this apply to criminal theft? Maybe not in every circumstance, though in some this could be the right way to respond. But in the everyday, I doubt there are many exceptions. Sometimes people take stuff from you, be it a cookie or a stapler, and when possible (obviously when you truly need something you need something) Jesus would ask us to let them go. 

This trend continues into lending, of course. Jesus is clear: when someone asks you to lend them something, do so, and do not expect to get your stuff back. If they return what you’ve given them, good. If they do not, be glad they can continue to benefit from you. Do not pester them or hunt them down to get your stuff back. This is all just a way of loving our neighbor as ourselves, even when they act like enemies. 

In my honest opinion, very few of us get or do this the way Jesus said. We rationalize and come up with all sorts of excuses to reduce the “everyone” to “a few trusted friends.” We lend expecting everything back, and are offended when that doesn’t happen. As far as we are concerned, what we have is ours, and everyone else has to have our blessing to use our property. Our rights are fundamental, and their needs and desires are secondary.  We may never say anything like this, but we do act this way. 

If Jesus saw us doing this, how would He respond? I imagine He would say something like this: 

If you give only in the offering plate when you are expected to, what good is it? Do not even the hypocrites and the self-righteous do the same? And if you lend only to those you trust expecting a return, how are you better than anyone else? Do not even banks and credit card companies do this? 

Harsh. So let’s listen to Jesus.

How Serious Was Jesus About Sharing?