Summary: The way of wisdom is to seek after things which are eternal.
This morning, I’m going to tell you how to get rich. I’m going to tell you how to acquire wealth that makes Bill Gates’ fortune look like pocket change.
Last week -- flood in Mozambique, a country on the Southeastern coast of Africa. Caused by a cyclone and three weeks of torrential rains.
· Thousands of people killed. One million homeless and in urgent need of food, medicine, and shelter.
· 250,000 acres of crops (1/3) washed away, 40,000 cattle drowned, 141 schools wiped out.
· Many left stranded in trees or on rooftops for several days waiting to be rescued by helicopter.
This week, the NASDAQ stock index hit a new all-time high. The NASDAQ has more than doubled in the past twelve months. Meantime, the internet has made many instant millionaires. Example: Jeff Bezos. Six years ago, at the age of 29, he started Amazon.com. His stake in the company is now worth about 7 Billion.
What do these two stories, polar opposites, have in common? They both illustrate something that Jesus Christ taught twenty centuries ago.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." -- Matthew 6:19-21
This passage has a "Do Not" and a "Do". We’ll take them in order.
First, the "Do Not". "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth."
Is this an absolute prohibition against any form of savings? Is it sin to have an IRA or 401K plan? Is Jesus forbidding the accumulation of material possessions? Should Christians take a vow of poverty, giving away all of their belongings, and keeping just the bare minimum needed for survival?
We could all give away our gold wedding rings, sell our late model cars, take our suits and dresses to the Salvation Army, hold a yard sale for our TV’s and stereos and furniture, sell our houses, give all the proceeds to charity and move in with our parents. Is that what Christ is calling us to do?
No. As usual, Jesus is concerned with our hearts. External things, like material possessions, matter only because of what they reveal about what is internal, what is in our hearts. Jesus cares about our wealth, not for its own sake, but because it both has an effect on our hearts and reflects what is already in our hearts.
Let me give some support for this argument that Jesus in not forbidding us to acquire possessions.
"Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! . . . It stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest." -- Proverbs 6:6-8 (NIV)
Here the Scriptures commend the ant because it makes provisions for the future. A wise man is one who follows this example. So a 401K plan is not sin, it is a prudent ant-like preparation.
"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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." - Philippians 4:23 (NIV)
Note what Paul is saying: the important thing isn’t whether we have plenty or are in need. The important thing is what is in our hearts; whether we are content or not. Because our level of contentment is independent of our level of wealth. It is possible to be poor and content, or to be wealthy and discontent. [Someone once asked J. Paul Getty how much was enough. "One more dime," he said]
If contentment doesn’t come from wealth, where does it come from? Paul gives us the secret: it comes from Christ. Through Him, we can be content in "any and every situation." He is the one who gives us strength.
But all of this doesn’t leave us off the hook entirely. Christ is speaking against something. If he isn’t condemning all accumulation of property, what is he forbidding? The key is in the phrase, "for yourselves." Christ is warning us against greed, covetousness, the hoarding of wealth, the lust for riches. It’s one thing to provide for the needs of your family and make provisions for the future. It’s another thing to seek wealth for its own sake, just to spend it on greater and greater levels of comfort and pleasure.
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. -- 1 Timothy 6:6, 9-10 (NIV)