Seeking First God's Kingdom for Our Money
Dr. David M. Hughes, Pastor First Baptist Church, Winston Salem, NC, and CBF Coordinating Council Alumni
January 14, 2007
SEEKING FIRST GOD’S KINGDOM WITH OUR MONEY
Matthew 6:19-21, 24-33
In last Sunday’s sermon I asked you to ponder an embarrassing subject—your bodies. Reflecting on your bodies at church may have seemed awkward for lots of reasons. Today, we jump from the frying pan to the fire, because I’m asking you to think about your money.
Most of us are more willing to discuss our sex lives than our financial lives. Most Americans consider their money a private matter, and only their accountants and financial advisors have any business knowing what goes on in their investment portfolios.
That’s why most of us wish the bible said little or nothing about money. I know I have my days when I wish the Lord would leave me alone with my money. I live in the same culture you do, a culture that worships money and devotes itself to the unbridled accumulation of money. I worry about money more than I should and struggle at times to keep my own financial house in order.
That explains why I’m not always thrilled to preach about money. Plus, I know preachers are known for fleecing their flocks out of money, and I want to stay as far removed from that image as possible. Plus, I know I risk offending church members and guests alike every time I talk about money.
But here’s the thing—whether I like it or you like it, there’s lots of teaching in scripture about money. Hundreds of verses in both the Old and New Testament address the subject. And Jesus talks a lot about money. In fact, Jesus talks more about money than any other subject except the kingdom of God. And in Matthew 6, he talks about both.
Last week, I began a series of sermons on stewardship. January is an unlikely month to conduct a stewardship campaign, but that’s what we’re doing in 2007. Stewardship of the body is an unlikely way to kick off a stewardship sermon series, but that’s what we talked about last week. This week, as we tackle the prickly, private issue of stewardship of money, we get to the heart of the matter…literally.
One misunderstanding we should clear up from the get go is the idea that the bible in general and Jesus in particular are anti-money, anti-ownership, anti-material possessions. The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:17 that God…richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Working hard to provide a living for yourself and your family is not a problem—it’s part of God’s plan.
The problem, to quote Paul again, arises when we put (our) hope in wealth (1 Timothy 6:17), when we live for money rather than off money, when we fixate on money and make it the focus of our lives. Jesus is making a similar point in his famous Sermon on the Mount. Interestingly enough, Jesus almost sounds like an investment counselor as he talks about how best to invest our money.
Jesus says where money is concerned we have two choices. We can put all our energy into amassing a fortune for this life in this world. Or we can focus primarily on accumulating a fortune that begins in this life and extends throughout eternity, a fortune based in the kingdom of God rather than our 401-K.
Clearly the world we know chooses the first option—it invests heavily in what we might call the “Bank of Earth.” Clearly, Jesus says we should choose the second option, investing primarily in the “Bank of Heaven.” But why should we listen to Jesus? And for that matter, why can’t we be equally invested in the “Bank of Earth” and the “Bank of Heaven”?
For starters, Jesus reminds us that our assets held in the Bank of Earth are anything but secure. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. In Jesus’ day, most houses were built of clay, meaning no wealth was ever truly secure. If moths didn’t eat your clothes, and rust didn’t erode your money, thieves could break in and clean you out in no time.
Today, we have better security for our money, or so we think. In the last six months, I’ve had one credit card stolen, and another credit card number stolen. Both times, somebody else had a fine time buying expensive stuff on my name in places like Idaho. Identify theft, high rates of depreciation, a fickle stock market, and an uninsured illness can wipe out our reserves in no time. And even if our money survives, we can’t take it with us when we die.
But it’s not just the perishability of our assets in the Bank of Earth that’s a problem. These assets also have a way of revealing our hearts, and ultimately stealing our hearts from God. Jesus puts it this way—For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Listen to the following statistics. The average American Christian lives on $42,000 a year. But according to a poll conducted by George Barna, only 6% of evangelical Christians tithe, or give 10% of their income to kingdom work. Thirty-five percent of American churchgoers spend more money at Blockbuster than they give to their congregation. Today, the average church member gives 2.6% of his or her average after-tax income to the church.
What are we to make of such figures? Clearly American Christians may talk a lot about going to heaven, but they are investing their money in the Bank of Earth. And there’s something else. We have major problems managing our money. Did you know that the average American family carries $9,000 in credit card debt? And in 2004, more Americans declared bankruptcy than graduated from college?
It’s clear that our checkbooks reveal far more about our hearts than our church attendance. And even more importantly, our checkbooks can change our hearts. Two bible stories confirm that money can change our hearts for better or worse. Remember Zaccheus? He was that the tiny tax collector, that Danny Devito look-a-like who gave half his possessions to the poor after deciding to follow Jesus, and his heart belonged to God forever. Remember the rich young ruler? He’s the young preppie who refused to give his treasures to the poor at the request of Jesus, and so far as we know he spent the rest of his life far from God.
Jesus spends so much time talking about money because money is the number one rival to God for our hearts—always has been, always will be. The real issue in our lives is, “Who’s going to be God in our life—God or money? That’s why Jesus says, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Speaking of God, our fixation with money can also reveal that we don’t trust God to come through for us when it counts. In other words, we are practical atheists.
Practical atheists say they believe in God, but live like there is no God. Practical atheists affirm the generosity of God, but then worry themselves sick over what they will eat, drink, and wear. Practical atheists will affirm on Sunday that God is in control and will provide for their needs. Then, from Monday through Saturday they worry and work themselves into exhaustion, as though they have no one to count on but themselves.
If you believe we have a God who cares for us, you will be concerned but not consumed by your financial and material needs. If, on the other hand, you think like the pagans and practical atheists that we are on our own in a hostile universe, you will worry and work yourself silly to make yourself and your family safe and secure from all alarms.
What are you saying you believe by your lifestyle?
While you ponder that question, ponder these words from Jesus. Jesus says don’t work or worry yourself to death just to grow your investment portfolio, or fill your closet with nice clothes. Instead, focus on what is first and foremost in this life. In other words, Seek first (God’s) kingdom and his righteousness, and all these (material) things will be given to you as well.
In other words, make your top priority investing in the kingdom of God, in financing and resourcing the work of God here and around the world. Then, in a way that defines explanation, everything you truly need will be provided.
Disciples of Jesus who seek first God’s kingdom with their money understand it really isn’t “their” money. Everything they have belongs to God. Over time they become less stressed about money because they learn to trust God for their needs. And their primary financial question shifts from, “What could I do with my money?” to “What could God do with his money?”
Do you hear the difference? “What could I do with my money?” becomes “What could God do with his money?”
Keep that question in mind as we change gears and focus for a minute on money and FBC. I’ve got some great news, and some frustrating news. The great news is this—despite starting the month of December way, way behind budget, our year-end income essentially broke even with our expenses. Believe me, we had to revive several members of the Finance Committee with smelling salts when they got that good news!
How did we break even? In the month of December we gave almost $240,000 towards our ministry funding plan. And when you add in the $336,000 that was given to our Heritage and Hope campaign, you realize we received almost well over $576,000 in the month of December!
Unbelievable! What could be frustrating about that? Here it is in a nutshell—we got just over 20% of our annual income in our last month. For that matter, we got 13% of our annual income in our last week!
What do those statistics tell you? Some of you are thinking this is no different from most years at FBC—and you’re right—because lots of people have to wait until December to determine what their income is for the year. And there is some merit in that notion.
What do these statistics reveal to God? They say many of us struggle to trust God with our money. For that reason, many of us are not giving in the manner God prescribes in scripture—especially when it comes to giving regularly.
In I Corinthians 16, Paul says, On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income (v. 2). Now, I’m not going to be a literalist here and say your giving is unbiblical if you do not give weekly. For the record, Joani and I give monthly to our church, and I know many of you do the same.
But I don’t think giving once or twice a year lives up to the biblical standard of giving, any more than worshipping once or twice a year meets the biblical standard of worship. My hunch is even people who do not know exactly where they stand financially until the end of the year can forecast generally what they will earn so that giving regularly along the way is possible.
When 20% of our income comes in the 12th month of the year that means we live in psychological stress for 11 months, and to be truthful, 51 weeks a year. It means members of our staff are urged often by a nervous Finance Committee not only not to overspend, but to under spend their budgets. And if it gets bad enough, it means staff wonder if their jobs are secure.
FBC, my hope and vision for our church is that we become a body that seeks first the kingdom of God with our money. My hope is we will become a church where trusting God for our needs is second nature, and giving generously and regularly is the norm. Because if we ever reached that level of giving, Jesus’ promise would come true before our eyes: God would provide everything—and I do mean everything—we truly need at FBC. Imagine!