Thursday, November 28, 2013

Spiritual Poverty & Money

Read: Luke 6:20 and Luke 6:24

The point of the last few posts has been that “poor” in these verses means spiritual poverty, and “rich” means spiritual pride. So what about money?

Previously I’ve made the point that “Jesus uses figurative speech, all the time.” This combined blessing and curse is an example of figurative speech. If the poor are blessed and the rich are cursed, then the literal interpretation is that there’s some kind of net worth borderline: less money and you’re in, and more money and you’re out.

This is obviously not the case, and as I said we know from Matthew 5 that Jesus also said “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This blessing and curse are primarily about our spirit, and our heart.

But I think it goes much too far to say that these sayings have nothing to do with money at all.

We are in the kingdom by being poor in spirit – confessing that we have nothing spiritual or morally valuable to bring to God – and by trusting in him for salvation.

But those that are in the kingdom will treat money very differently to those that are outside of the kingdom. In fact, I think that money is the main application of being poor in spirit for us today.

The poor in spirit bring nothing to God, and trust him for salvation. The poor in spirit also trust God for everything else, through all of life. We trust him for food and clothing. We must trust him when circumstances look hopeless, and when our life looks like its not worth living.

Money enters the equation in at least these two ways:
  1. Having money gets in the way of trusting God for our needs.
  2. Our generosity with money shows our trust of God.

1. Having money gets in the way of trusting God for our needs. This is almost certainly your problem, today. I know that it’s mine. Maybe one or two of us are exceptions, but I doubt it.

Read Luke 12:29-31, the well-known passage where Jesus says “don’t be anxious about your life”, and “consider the ravens” and “consider the lilies”.

“Do you have the clothes you are wearing, and will you eat another two meals today mainly because you were seeking first after God’s kingdom and trusting him to provide the clothes and food?”

In this passage, in Luke 12, Jesus is telling some of the poorest people to not be anxious about where they’ll find their clothes, or how they’ll put another meal on the table. They were anxious because they were poor and weren’t certain how they’d afford these things. We have the exact opposite problem.

When was the last time you were tempted to worry about the bare necessities of life? Worried about clothing, shelter and food? We’re not tempted to worry about these things because we are so incredibly wealthy. Our fridges, freezers and cupboards are full of food. If we need more, we go down to Coles or Woollies and spend a fraction of our money on a range and quality of foods that would have amazed King Solomon.

You are actually among the richest people in the world. I want to quote the beginning of an article that was in the Sydney Morning Herald recently. The figures of wealth in this article are net worth: take the value of all your assets, and then subtract your liabilities. They aren’t annual income figures.
Australians remain the richest people in the world, by one measure at least.

The median wealth of adult Australians stands at $US219,505 ($233,504) - the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest, meaning that 50 per cent of the population has more than $233,504, and 50 per cent less than that.

Our wealth gets in the way of us trusting God for what we need. We trust our money, our jobs, our savings, our investments, our insurance, our friends and family. We even trust the government to stop us from becoming naked and starving.

We are not poor. We are so rich, that we should tremble at the thought that we could be trusting our money more than our God. We cannot trust our money to provide for our needs, and still be poor in spirit. And only the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom.

The second way that money relates to being poor in spirit is that: 2. Our generosity with money shows our trust in God.

Jesus has a lot to say about wealth, and money. His commands about money are radical, and obeying them means trusting God. Starting in Luke 6.

Read Luke 6:30, Luke 6:35 and Luke 6:38. Jesus says to give generously and lend without expecting anything in return, and trust God that he will reward you, and be more generous than you’ve been.

Read Luke 12:15-21. Again, Jesus gives a dire warning to those who are selfish with money and possessions: you die and enter judgement, and someone else gets the stuff.

Luke 12:22-34 is the passage we looked at earlier about seeking the kingdom of God first, and all the other things will be added to you. Now read Luke 12:32-34. These are radical commands.

Read Luke 16:13. When you trust money, you serve money. You cannot serve God, and money. You can’t trust God, and trust money.

Luke 16:19-31 is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man went to Hades in torment, and Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom. In verse 25, Abraham said to the rich man, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” That sounds very familiar, doesn’t it:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

So we should pay attention to this parable, to better understand what it means to be poor in spirit, or not so poor in spirit, like the rich man. And what was the sin of the rich man, that he didn’t repent of? It’s implied by the situation:

Read Luke 16:19-21

It’s not a sin to be rich, to wear nice clothes and to feast sumptuously. But this rich man had Lazarus laid at his gate, who was poor, sick and suffering. All he wanted was the leftovers; the table scraps. He desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. He only wanted the floor sweepings, and it seems he didn’t even get that. The rich man kept his money to himself, and had no love or compassion for Lazarus. He is then held responsible for his treatment of the poor man Lazarus at his gate.

You and I are physically rich. We live in sturdy, comfortable houses, wear great clothes and eat the best food in the world. Who is lying at your door: poor, sick or suffering?

We live in a much smaller world now, than Lazarus. My wife and I bought some books and other stuff online the other day from a shop in Idaho, while sitting on the couch, using my iPad. If I can buy from a shop on the other side of the world without leaving the living room, then my doorstop beside which the poor are lying must also be global. Surely God holds me responsible for how I use my money to help the poor and suffering in Emerald, and the rest of Australia and across the world.

Do you help the poor with your money? Or are you clinging to your money more than you should, and helping the poor and destitute, especially the Christian poor, less than you should?

I recommend some impulse generosity. Just like impulse buying, impulse generosity is instantaneous. If your heart is moved to help the poor, then it’s not complicated. Get onto your internet banking and give the Barnabas Fund or Open Doors a few hundred dollars. While you’re there, set it up to happen every month. Or buy some extra groceries while you’re shopping and drop them off at the Neighbourhood Centre.

Give from the heart, generously. Don’t do it to be seen by others, or that will be your only reward. If you do it to be noticed and admired, it won’t be from the heart, and it won’t be generous.

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