I Didn’t Know… (Proverbs 30:7-9; Luke 12:13-34)
No matter how many times you read the Bible, you still come across some strange passages. There are always new surprises. For instance, Proverbs 30 contains one of the strangest prayers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone pray this prayer. It’s as if the author had two wishes. Look at what he asks for.Proverbs 30:7-8 says, “O God, I beg two favors from you before I die. First, help me never to tell a lie.” That’s pretty good. I can go with that first choice. It’s noble to ask God for help in being completely truthful. Then Agur gives his second wish. “Second, give me neither poverty…” – okay, I’m tracking, this is good – “nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.”Wait a minute. This isn’t what I would ask for. Agur continues in verse 9: “For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”This probably isn’t a prayer we’ve prayed very often. “Lord, please don’t let them give me a raise this year!” I’ve never seen a group on strike outside demanding lower wages. Most of us are overwhelmed financially. We feel like we’re barely getting by as it is. We feel, “If only I had a little bit more.” We wouldn’t dream of praying for God to only give us what we need and no more.When I fill up my car at Esso, I occasionally see that they’re giving away $10,000 to some lucky winner. That’s a nice amount. It’s not enough to change someone’s life, to quit a job and buy a new house, but it’s enough to have a bit of fun. The reality is that there’s probably nobody here who would have a problem thinking of ways to spend an extra $10,000. There’s stuff we’ve been wanting for ages.We don’t often think of it this way, but there is a danger in having more money than we need to just get by. When we have more than we need, there’s a danger that we’ll say, “Who is the LORD?” That’s how we think. Who needs God when you have money? Riches lead us away from dependence on God. That’s not a pleasant thought. It’s not what we want to believe about ourselves, but it’s true.Jesus told a story to help us understand this concept. I think he told a story because a story is subversive. It gets past our defenses. The story is found in Luke 12. Luke sets the stage for the story Jesus is about to tell. Luke 12:1 says, “Meanwhile, the crowds grew until thousands were milling about and crushing each other.” Wouldn’t you have loved to be there? It sounds like a European soccer match. Crowds all over, and then Jesus begins teaching. He doesn’t pull any punches as he warns the crowd about the religious leaders of the day.As soon as he’s done, somebody walks up to Jesus. Verse 13 says, “Then someone called from the crowd, ‘Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.'” This is one of those moments that you want to say, “Have you been listening to what Jesus has just been talking about?” It reminds me of a pastor friend of mine. He had preached a message that touched a lot of people. After, he stood at the front of the church and prayed with people. About three or four people in, he said, “What would you like to talk about?” They answered, “Pastor, I just wanted to return this video to the library.” You feel like saying, “Were you even here? Have you been paying attention?”It wasn’t unusual to bring these sorts of issues to a rabbi. It just wasn’t the right time. Jesus saw that the real issue wasn’t the proper disposition of an estate. Jesus saw that there was a deeper issue that needed confronting. He turned to the man in verse 14 and said, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then, in verse 15, he stopped addressing the man, and took this as a teaching opportunity for the whole audience. “Then he said, ‘Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own.'”Jesus was pretty direct. He warned us twice to be on guard against greed. Now, nobody thinks they’re greedy. In fact, one of the characteristics of greed is that we don’t know when we’re being greedy. Greed is wanting more of what we already have enough of. When we want more, we don’t think we have enough. We don’t even realize what’s happening. We don’t know that we’re greedy. We may not realize it, but Jesus is talking right to us.What’s the big deal about greed? Jesus says, “Real life is not measured by how much we own.” We all believe that at one level, but a whole other part of us acts as if our possessions and our quality of life are directly related. We believe – culture believes – that possessions add to, or even lead to, the good life. When we have a lot, we want more. Without realizing it, our stuff can become a substitute for God. Colossians 3:5 even says that greed is idolatry.We’re all here. We all have lots of stuff. Even those of us who are struggling financially are really quite well off. And most of us want more. I would say that probably 98% of us fit into this category of having more than we need to live. Both Proverbs and Jesus warn us that there are dangers in having more than we need just to get by.Then Jesus tells a story. Verses 16-19:
And he gave an illustration: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. In fact, his barns were full to overflowing. So he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store everything. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!’
We read this story and think, “What’s the problem?” This is basically how most of us are living. We hope that we have a good year in business or sales. We hope that our portfolio expands and that the markets pick up this year. We’re planning on getting enough so we can maybe move to a slightly better house, maybe take it a bit easier one day. Jesus may have told the story from an agricultural perspective, but you could import that into any one of our worlds and it would fit. What’s wrong with that?Jesus continues in verses 20-21: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get it all?’ Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” The problem wasn’t with his money. It’s not wrong to be rich. But there were a couple of other problems. One, this guy really didn’t have a spiritual life. He may have had money, but he didn’t have a relationship with God. The other problem, though, was that he thought all the money was for him. He got more, so he figured he could keep more. The tendency for all of us is to keep all or most of what God gives us, beyond the basic necessities, for ourselves.What happens when we get a raise? Say you got a 3% raise this year. For most people, this is what happens: your spending goes up by 3%, or more. We get more; we think we can keep more. The Bible says that there’s a big problem with this. It makes us less dependent on God. But there’s another problem. God doesn’t give us more so that we can be a blessing to ourselves. God gives us more so we can use it for others. We’re supposed to use it to help others, not just to help ourselves.Then Jesus talks about how God will take care of us. We won’t read it, but it’s a good passage to bookmark for when you’re feeling financially stressed. Basically, Jesus says that we don’t have to be greedy, or worry about money, because God will look after us. He says in verse 30: “These things dominate the thoughts of most people[a very true statement], but your Father already knows your needs. He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” We don’t have to get stressed about money, about having enough, because God always looks after his kids. Jesus says, “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). It’s almost like Jesus is saying, “What more do you need?”Then Jesus says the most amazing, disturbing thing. You’ll probably do what I did. I looked at the footnotes, in the Greek, to see if there was something that said, “Just kidding, guys.” I looked for the loophole. It seems like one of those hyperboles, an exaggeration, something that he couldn’t possibly mean for us to take seriously. Jesus says in verse 33 says, “Sell what you have and give to those in need.” He doesn’t say sell all that we have. But he does say that we should get rid of some of our stuff so that we can help others.I think Jesus really means this. We have way too much stuff. We even curse it sometimes. We run out of space to store it all. We rent self-storage lockers to pack it all away. We pay monthly fees to store stuff away that we don’t even use. When we clean our houses, we mutter about all the stuff we have to move to dust – stuff we don’t even like. We have so many clothes that there are some things we haven’t worn in ages, and not because it doesn’t fit. Jesus says, get rid of it. Take that second or third computer and give it to someone who could use it. Donate it to a computer lab. Get rid of your stuff, and give it to someone who could use it. Cash in some of your investments and give it to somebody who’s struggling financially.It’s hard to know who benefits most when we do this. Jesus mentioned that we’ll be helping those in need if we do this. But you get the impression that he was more focused on what it would do for us. It makes us less encumbered by all our possessions, less attached to physical stuff. Jesus said in verses 33-34:
This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven have no holes in them. Your treasure will be safe-no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.
Following his instructions may help the poor. It may give some needed resources to charities and people who really need it. But it also does something for us. It frees us from the encumbrances of possessions. It makes us more dependent on God.Here’s the point. Treasures aren’t just to be stored up for our own pleasure. Whenever God gives us more than we need to get by – and that’s almost all of us – we need to realize that we’re facing a danger. The danger is that we’ll get greedy and want more without even knowing it, and we’ll end up enslaved to the stuff rather than using it to benefit others.The goal, I think, isn’t for us to feel guilty, or to skip going out for lunch today. The goal, though, is to aim for a modest lifestyle that benefits others. The goal is to live in such a way that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to lose everything we own, because what really matters can never be taken away.Here’s what I didn’t know. I didn’t know that I have enough. I’m rich. Almost all of us are. We live in luxury, compared to history, compared to most of the world. We all make way more than we really deserve. We may not think so, because we compare it to others we know, or what’s on TV. Even the poorest of us has resources that many could only dream of. What we have is more than enough. 98% of us have more than we need just to get by.I didn’t know that there’s a danger in having more than enough. This is the goal of pretty well everyone in North America: to have more than we need to get by. I didn’t know that there’s such a danger in having so much. The greatest indication of that is that we don’t know how much we have. Despite our riches, most of us feel financially strapped. We’re making more money that ever before, but we don’t know it. Remember the definition of greed? It’s wanting more of what I already have enough of. I didn’t know that I’m probably living a life of greed, without even being aware.I also didn’t know that the excess was given for me to share. I didn’t know, but I do now. Jesus said, “Sell what you have and give to the poor.” When I get a 3% raise, I don’t have to spend the 3% on myself. I can share some of it with others. I can use the extra beyond what I really need to get by to enrich the lives of others.This week, I read that the average American Christian gives 3% of their income to charity. If every American Christian started tithing, not only could all ministries be supported at their current levels, but there would also be enough to end world hunger. I know that there are other issues: getting the aid past corrupt governments and so on, but that’s sobering. That’s just one country, but look what could happen. Every American Christian could keep 90% for themselves, and there would still be enough money left over to end world hunger. Imagine what could happen if we really began to use our excess – the amount beyond what we really need – to help others.There are really only two choices. One is to pray to God, like Agur, “Lord, I don’t need any more. Please, no more raises. In fact, cut my income back to only what I need to get by.” You could pray that prayer. It’s pretty radical, but it’s really not such a bad prayer to offer.If you can’t bring yourself to pray that, the only real alternative is to say, “Lord, give me more, but help me to give it away.” The only other choice that honors him is to accept more than you need, but then commit to using it to help others. God’s not calling us all to live in tents; he is calling us to live modestly and generously, enjoying what he’s given us, but also enjoying giving it away to help others.Next week, I’ve asked Dwayne Cline, a pastor from inner-city Hamilton, to speak on what the Bible teaches on our responsibility to the poor. He’s got way more credibility to speak on this than I do. But today, it’s time to pray one of these two prayers. “Lord, only give me what I need to get by,” or else, “Lord, give me more, but help me to use it to help others.”It may be time to go home and put some things on eBay, and give the money to the charity. It may be time to plan a garage sale, or to give some of our stuff away to people or organizations who can use it. It’s time to free ourselves up. It’s time to start living the promise that Jesus gave: “He will give you all you need from day to day if you make the Kingdom of God your primary concern” (Luke 12:31).Prayer:
For those of us who are stressed financially – to receive the promise that God will give us all that we needFor those of us who have more than we need, to live generously, to be freed from greedFernando Ortega’s song – “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.”