Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 21, 2006
Christian Stewardship, Pt. 2
What do you do when your economic future is uncertain, or even worse, you know it is going to turn sour? You know that while you may have a good income for the present, the future could be or will be different. That can happen for a lot of reasons. Perhaps your particular job skill or the product you were making is going the way of the dinosaur and you will soon be out of a job. Maybe the company your are working for is planning to “downsize” and you may be one of those who is forced out. There are times that the local economy or even the national economy can turn sour and your business declines as a result. Over the years we have had different people in this church experience these kinds of situations.
Remember that I pointed out a couple of weeks ago that there were two signs of a doomed economy: 1 – Continued overspending and 2 – Using credit to do it. Both of these are true of the United States. The national debt has a $28,000 dollar sword over the head of every man, woman and child in this nation. Personal credit card debt averages another $8,000 per card and that does not take into account other consumer debt such as housing, cars and big ticket items such as furniture.
Maybe none of that bothers you because your job is secure, but you do realize that a serious accident could make things very tough very quickly? We have had several people in this church who have had that happen to them including my wife. Accidents can happen quickly and their damage can be permanent.
Now if your are one of those perennial optimists maybe you never think about these things in which case if any of these things ever do come upon you at least you can say that the ignorance was bliss while it lasted. If you are a pessimist, then you are probably already doing what most everyone does when the future looks insecure and just continue to worry. Worry is the preoccupation of the mind with anticipation what the future might bring. Scenario after scenario is considered in trying to anticipate what could happen and how each possible situation will be handled it something does happen. Some people worry a little while others worry a lot.
Worry can result in other bad things including ulcers, heart problems and other medical conditions and such. Worry can also lead to bad financial decisions too. Some begin to hoard what they have out of fear they will run short of something in the future. Others take the opposite approach and spend everything that comes into their hands reasoning that they might as well enjoy it while they got it. Still others make almost no decisions at all because worry has strangled them. Their mind is too preoccupied with the future to be able to make decisions in the present.
If there is one thing that I hope that has come across in the messages we have had about financial matters so far, I hope it is this: We who are Christians do not have to worry. In fact, we are commanded not to worry. God wants us to be pre-occupied with Him and not our daily necessities.
Maslow’s pyramid of needs may hold some validity for those who are not Christians, but for us, the pyramid is turned upside down. Our foremost concern is not to be food, shelter and clothing but God Himself. God’s promise in Matthew 6 is that as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness He will provide us with the things we need for life. From my own personal experience I can tell you that this is a most satisfying and peaceful way to live.
The key to end worry whether it is over finances or anything else is learning to trust God. We learn to trust Him by learning about who He is, what He has promised, what He wants us to do, and then stepping out in faith and doing it. I do not worry about money because over the course of years I have learned that God is good and that He fulfills His promise to take care of my family and me as I put Him first in my life. I have seen Him do this over and over again as I have stepped out in faith to do His will. The same can and should be true of you.
In learning to trust God there are some very practical matters that have to be addressed. Two weeks ago we addressed two of them. The first is that in order to trust God you are going to have to change your understanding of success. True success, according to the Bible, is not about the size of your house, what kind of car you drive, the value of your portfolio, or how many people are under your authority. Biblical success is loving God with all your heart, soul and mind; having your character be a reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ and being a faithful servant of God and other people. If these things are the goals of the your life there is no doubt that God will grant them to you as you pursue them.
The second area is having the right goals. If your goals continue to be a reflection of this materialistic society, then you will find that God is going to disappoint you and you will not trust Him. God does not exist for our good pleasure so He is not going to give you all the things you desire. We exist for God’s good pleasure. God owns it all and we are nothing more than stewards / managers / administrators of what God lets us use the short time we are here on earth. You do not really “own” anything. God simply makes it available for your use while you are alive. All you arrived with was your birthday suit and that is all you are going to leave with. Since God owns it all then He has rights and you have responsibilities. He will hold you accountable for what you do with what He given you which includes both material items and your spiritual gifts.
People have a problem with materialism because of these two areas. They have the wrong idea of true success so they have set the wrong goals resulting in a failure to understand that they are stewards, not owners of what is in their possession. Both of these errors extend from a wrong view of God to begin with. They see Him as a doting grandfather who gives his spoiled grandchildren anything they want. God is under no obligation to give us what we want unless it conforms to His will. James 4 is clear on this point. Verse 3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures.” He adds in verse 4 “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. ” For the rest of this morning I want to expand on this and show from a very practical standpoint the futility – the foolishness – of being a friend of the world with its accompanying pursuit of fame, fortune, power and pleasure. In doing this I hope to relieve some more of the financial pressures you feel because of the need to “succeed” according to the world’s standards. and “keep up with the Jones’.” Turn to I John 2:15.
15 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
The principle is the same as seen in James 4:4. Friendship with the world is hostility toward God. You cannot love the world and what it offers and God at the same time. Or as Jesus put it in Matthew 6, you cannot serve two masters. It must be either God or mammon.
The idea here is not that God is the great cosmic kill-joy who does not want you to enjoy anything. The breadth of Scriptures makes it clear that we may take advantage of and enjoy the things of this world including fame, fortune, power and pleasure, but we are not to be in pursuit of these things.
Ecclesiastes states this principle in several ways. In 3:12,13 it says, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor- it is the gift of God. “ 5:18,19 adds, “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun [during] the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.19 Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth. He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gif t of God.”
Psalm 128:1-5 states it this way, “How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, Who walks in His ways. When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands. You will be happy and it will be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine. Within your house. Your children like olive plants Around your table. Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed Who fears the Lord.”
Paul put it succinctly in I Timothy 4:4,5, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”
It is not pleasure, nor possessions, nor power in and of themselves that are the problem. The problem is the pursuit of them. God wants us to be pre-occupied with Him and not the things of the world. He wants us to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ and not that of this world. The Biblical principle then is that while we may enjoy the things of the world, we may not “love” them. They must not become our pursuit in life.
What does the world have to offer? The first is:
THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE
The “lust of the flesh” refers to the strong desires to fulfill the cravings of the flesh. It is a reference to sensuality, that which brings pleasure to the senses. Again, God created our senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell – and we may enjoy those senses as long as their pleasures are legitimately gained and are sought after for the correct reasons. Christians are not to be hedonists who seek pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Pleasure is only a part of life and not its purpose. Scripture has many warnings about the problems pursuing physical pleasure can bring including its ultimate vanity.
In Ecclesiastes 2 Solomon described his pursuit of every kind of pleasure. He created beautiful parks to please his eyes. He had many slaves who provided music to please his ears. He had every kind of delicacy to please his senses of taste & smell, and he had 700 wives and 300 concubines to bring pleasure to his sense of touch. What was his conclusion about this? Eccl. 2:1, “I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility.” Physical pleasure is fleeting. It brings no long term satisfaction. There is always the quest for more of it or something better, something more stimulating.
Paul’s admonition Romans 13:13,14 is directly to the point when it comes to fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
The second part of John’s warning is concerning:
THE PURSUIT OF POSSESSIONS
“The lust of the eyes” refers to that which one desires for one’s self. It is what a person would see that they would want as part of their own treasure. It is material possessions.
The word “lust” simply means “very strong desire,” and that desire is the driving force behind moving something out of the realm of godly enjoyment of what is beautiful into what John is talking about here which is also the basis for envy and jealousy. It is not enough to simply enjoy something pretty and go on. There develops the desire to possess it, and if it is an item that is too expensive for us, then to at least possess a facsimile or a remembrance of it.
Examples: You see something that interests you. It could be something related to one of your hobbies, perhaps a nice painting, well done craft work, jewelry, sports gear, computer equipment, etc. It is not enough for you to just admire it. You want to get one for yourself. The fact that what you already have is adequate doesn’t matter. The fact that you may already have a lot of them doesn’t matter. You like it and you want it for yourself.
This desire to possess what pleases your eyes is the driving force behind much of the retail industry. That is what marketing is all about and why it is so important to business. Even in the grocery market everything is carefully packaged and arranged so that you will find the item attractive and want it for yourself. That is why full color, glossy picture catalogs are so successful. They are designed to attract your eye and create a desire for you to own the product being depicted. Even books which are just black ink on white paper do this by taking great pains to design the cover to attract your interest in purchasing that book. They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but those who market it sure want you to try and then buy it. It is the lust of the eyes that entices you to purchase something because it looks attractive whether you actually have a need for an item or not and whether it is the best logical choice to meet a need.
Want a reality check in this area? Move from your preset home to a new house. Some of you already know what I am talking about. How did we ever accumulate so much junk! All that stuff that enticed your fancy at one time and so you bought it, but what about now? How much of what you have do you have need for and actually use, and how much is stuff you might have used for a short time when you first bought it, but it has been years since you last touched it.
The lust of the flesh – the pursuit of possessions leads us into many unwise decisions concerning our finances, our time and our energy.
The third aspect of the world that John warns against is:
THE PURSUIT OF POWER
The “boastful pride of life” is the effort to gain fame and prestige for the purpose of the power they afford. This does not apply just to those who are in the big leagues and are striving for key positions in government, military, education, business, etc. It also involves those in the little leagues – the local associations and small groups.
The problem is not in having fame, prestige and positions of power. It would be good if godly Christians were in those positions. The problem is in how and why a person attains such a position. A person who has normal abilities and strives to be the best they can be, whether that is work or a hobby, will by doing that move ahead of most people who do not strive as hard, and so they will gain both recognition in their field (fame / prestige) and will most likely also gain positions of greater responsibility and authority. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as they also follow Jesus’ example and exert their leadership over others with humility . The problem comes when a person strives to gain a position because of a lust for prestige or power. They want prestige in order to satisfy their selfish ego, or they want power so they can force others into a position of serving them.
To use a sports analogy, this is the difference between those you like to play against and those you do not. There are those whose primary goal is simply doing their best and enjoying the game. Winning is secondary to them. They are good winners and good losers. They are humble and treat all other competitors with respect. Those whose primary goal is winning have their pride wrapped up in that goal and they are poor losers and poor winners. If they lose, they sulk and always find some excuse for losing. If they win, they brag.
Within the church it is the difference between church leaders who serve and those who demand. Someone who is Biblically qualified to be a church leader is appropriately gifted and desires to serve the Lord and other believers. Those who become leaders because they want to boost their image or get their own way bring much grief to the other leaders and the church.
The first biblical qualification for an Elder is that they have a strong desire to do the work of an Elder. Whether they actually hold that position is not that important to them. So guess what we need to look for when looking for church leaders? Those who are already using their spiritual gifts and fulfilling those roles to one degree or another. They are involved in the church family, shepherding, discipling, helping on committees, etc.
The apostle John warns against all three of these areas because they the areas of temptation common to man. In fact, it was these three areas of temptation that got mankind into trouble in the first place for it was the basis of Eve being deceived by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent had lied to Eve and then Genesis 3:6 says, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of flesh), and that it was a delight to the eyes (lust of eyes), and that the tree was desirable to make [one] wise (boastful pride of life), she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”
Jesus was in all points tempted as we are (Heb. 4:15) and that is seen in Matthew 4 when He was tempted by the devil. He was tempted to make stones into bread (lust of the flesh). He was tempted to make Himself a spectacle in order to gain fame (boastful pride of life), and He was tempted to gain the kingdoms of the world through a wrong method (lust of the eyes). Jesus overcame each of these temptations by knowing the Scriptures well enough to quote them and obey them.
THE PASSING AWAY
John warns against these three areas and tells us that they are not from the Father, but from the world. These things are not what God wants us to be concerned about. We are to enjoy His blessings and use what ever position we have for His glory. To strive after any of these things for ourselves is self-seeking, not God seeking. We would then be a reflection of the world’s system that puts the priority on self love, not on God’s system that puts loving Him and others first.
In vs 17 John gives a very practical reason for not pursuing pleasure, possessions or power.
“And the world is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.”
“All these things are fleeting at best. Proverbs 23:1 warns. “When you sit down to dine with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you; 2 And put a knife to your throat , If you are a man of [great] appetite. 3 Do not desire his delicacies. For it is deceptive food. 4 Do not weary yourself to gain wealth. Cease from your consideration [of it.] 5 When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For [wealth] certainty makes itself wings, Like an eagle that flies [toward] the heavens.”
John adds the additional fact that none of these things will transfer into eternity. The quip that “only what is done for Christ will last,” is true. Jesus warned in Matthew 24:35 that the present heaven and earth would pass away. 2 Peter 3:10 tells us “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” Peter adds in verse 11, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” That is the challenge to us in every area of our lives including our finances.
The conclusion then is that the Christian is not to worry. We are not to be pre-occupied with personal finances for three reasons.
1) The goals a Christian needs to pursue in order to be successful do not include them. Our goals are to be: A) Loving God, B) Becoming like Christ, C) Serving God and other people. Our financial state has little to do with any of these.
2) We are only stewards of what God has let us have while we are on this earth. We only need to be faithful to Him and He will take care of the rest.
3) All the things this world has to offer – pleasure, possessions and power – are only temporary. The world and its works will be burned up, so it is foolish to make gaining them the goal of your life. Live with eternity in view.
The basic tenet for the Christian for dealing with finances is very simple. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you – Matthew 6:33
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word “desire,” “lust” or “want” is mentioned 2) Talk with your parents about what you want in your life and why.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What do you do if your economic picture looks bad? What makes you worry? Why? What is the cure for all worry? What are some practical ways that you can learn to trust God? Explain James 4:3,4. Explain the principles found in 1 John 2:15-17. How do the following verses explain those principles: Ecclesiastes 3:12,13; 5:18,19; Psalm 128:1-5and 1 Timothy 4:4,5? What does the word “lust” mean? What is the “lust of the flesh”? What was Solomon’s conclusion about it – Eccl. 2? What did Paul say about it – Romans 13:13,14? What is the “lust of the eyes”? Give some examples of how that affects you? What is the “boastful pride of life”? When is it okay for a Christian Christians to seek fame, prestige or a position of power? When would it be wrong? How was Eve tempted (Gen. 3) in the three areas listed in 1 John 2:16? Why did Eve sin? How as Jesus tempted in those areas (Matt. 4)? How did He overcome those temptations? How can you overcome the temptations that come upon you? Why is it foolish to pursue the things of the world? What goals should a Christian have? How can a Christian have financial peace? Do you have peace? Why or why not? If not, what would need to change?
Sermon Notes – May 21, 2006
Christian Stewardship, Part 2 – Selected Scriptures
Learning to Trust God
The Principle – 1John 2:15-17
The Pursuit of Pleasure – 1 John 2:16
The Pursuit of Possessions – 1 John 2:16
The Pursuit of Power – 1 John 2:16
The Passing Away – 1 John 2:17
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