Matthew: Greed is Blind

This week, we had some technical difficulties with the recording of the message.   It happens.  So instead I am posting my notes from the sermon.  Please forgive any typos.

GREED IS GOOD.  At least that’s what Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas) said in the 1987 movie Wall Street.

OPEN QUESTION // IS THAT A TRUE STATEMENT?

Greed = intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.

OPEN QUESTION // WHY AREN’T WE MORE GENEROUS? 

I’ve taught before on generosity, it’s part of our introductory series (you can listen here).  I give a shout out to the great theologian … Big E. Smalls … who gives us the insightful truth …  Mo Money, Mo Problems.

In that message, I make the point that tithing (giving 10% of your income to the church) while biblical, is not necessarily Christian.

Under the OT law, the Nation of Israel gave tithes to support the Levites (priests), another tithe for religious festivals, another tithe every 3rd year to help support widows and orphans … which actually comes to 23.3% of their income/year.

But remember, this was a theocracy, and so the tithe was much like our modern-day tax system.  It was an OBLIGATION to support their nation.

With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus … all the ceremonial codes that belonged to the Jews were nailed to the cross and buried.  And so now there is nothing standing between us and God.  No temples.  No special priesthood.  And no tithe.  We have direct access to the Father, because of Jesus.  Period.  The end.

But … what we do see in scripture is Christians being VERY generous.  Not out of obligation, but cheerfully according to their ability.

In fact, when we look at church history, one of the greatest testimonies to outsiders of the early Church … wasn’t their worship sets, wasn’t their charismatic speakers, wasn’t their buildings or programs for every age group … it was how generous they were to the poor and needy.

Tonight, we’re not talking about the false prosperity gospel that says if you give, and do all the right things you’ll be financially blessed.

We’re not talking about the false poverty gospel that says as Christians we can’t enjoy the financial blessed God gives.

We’re talking about THE Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel that says: If you never tithe a day in your life, God won’t love you any less.  And if you give away everything you own, God won’t love you anymore.  Jesus has already done EVERYTHING we need to earn God’s approval.

And when we come to terms with this amazing grace, the desires of our hearts begin to turn to finding what pleases the Lord.

Many references to this in the NT, I’ll pull out one.

2 Cor. 9:7

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

How’s the Church doing being “cheerful givers”?   

Church Statistics:

  1. 247 million Americans identify themselves as Christians. 5 million give away 10% or more of their income.  (< 1%)
  2. Of people who regularly attend church … Tithers make up only 10-20% of a normal congregation.
  3. 28% of those who tithe are also debt free.

Tonight, isn’t about guilt.  It’s about discipleship.  About learning the ways of Jesus, and what pleases our Father.

We’ve been studying the Gospel of Matthew, and spending several weeks in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Conclude this tonight, with Jesus teaching on generosity and greed.

I want you to know … I have no personal agenda tonight, other than us to hear the words of Jesus. We are a unique Church in that all of our pastors are bi-vocational.  We have day jobs.  So I’m not here begging or pressuring you for your money so I can get a raise.

We do pay some small stipends to those who help to equip others for ministry … that total in 2017 was $18k.  Let me repeat that … our total staff comp. is $18k.

Our biggest expense is our rent.  But I’m not standing here begging for you to help us cover that either.  We have a solid foundation of faithful and generous givers, who have committed to making sure that expense is covered.

Many of you know, our goal as a church is to reach a point of giving away 50% of all giving that comes into Refuge, and put those resources to work for outreach in the community.  (HOM, ITJ, etc)

That’s a lofty goal.  I don’t know of a church who has achieved that goal.

And so, what I am hope to do tonight, is encourage you to jump on board with that vision.  To be a part of something greater than yourself.

In 2017 (counting mission trip) we were just under 20%. That’s a good start.  If we included all the donations you made of food, Christmas presents, meals … that number probably would be approaching 25%.

But I did some math this week.  We have 120 or so members at Refuge.  That means maybe 75 households. The median household income in Lee County is $50k.

Our combined income then as a church is around $3.8M.  If every member gave 10%, that would be $380,000 … that would mean under our existing expense structure, if we each gave 10%, we could give 65% back out for missions and ministry.  Serving the marginalized, the orphan and the widow.

And that’s if we each just gave 10%.  Which in America, isn’t scratching the surface of being sacrificial giving.

Can you imagine.  Every church in America following our lead, looking at their expenses.  Reducing staffing expenses (50% of most churches expense).  Reigning in debt and building expenses.  Cutting back on the show.  And instead focused on reaching a hurting and broken world with their generosity like the early church.

The world would have no choice but take notice.  Wouldn’t that be amazing. For Christians to be known by our generosity, and not the things many know us by today?

So, what’s stopping us???  Jesus knew the answer.  Greed.

16 of 38 parables of Jesus are concerned with money and possessions. Jesus knew that how we handled money revealed our hearts …

Martin Luther once said …

There are three conversions a person needs to experience: the conversion of the head, the conversion of the heart, and the conversion of the wallet.

That conversion of the wallet is a tough one, and why Jesus spent so much time talking about money and greed.

Mt 6:19-34 (these are the words of JESUS) 

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

22 “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. 23 But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!

24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Usually people find out the sermon topic is money, and they find some reason not to show up.

Googled Some Popular Excuses

  • I overslept (Saturday night??)
  • It’s my only day to sleep in (Saturday night?)
  • I can connect with God better at the Beach …
  • They never sing my jams.
  • Jesus never went to Church.
  • I have gas.
  • I already asked Jesus into my heart, what else do you want?
  • Yesterday was leg day at the gym.
  • The pastor is a sinner (yes, he is)
  • Pastor is too preachy. It’s always Jesus this and Jesus that.  Resurrected. New life. Got it.
  • I woke up in a good mood, and don’t want to ruin it.

Why don’t we like talking about money? 

  1. We think the church is begging for our money. Snowbirds are in town, get ready for some sermons about giving. Hit ‘em while there here.
  2. We are blinded to our own greed.

In his teaching tonight, Jesus gives us this interesting little metaphor that I want to focus the rest of our time on. Jesus says …

 22 “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. 23 But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness

If you have working eyes … and there is light in this room, you’re going to be able to see and move through this room without stumbling/falling, etc.

But if you have “unhealthy eyes” … in other words, if you’re blind … no matter how much light we crank up in this room, you’re still walking in darkness.  Even walking in broad daylight, if you’re blind, it’s like walking in the dark.

Gordon Gecko said: Greed is good.  But Jesus says: Greed is blind.

The reason we don’t like talking about money and greed, is because we are blinded by our own greed.  We don’t see it.  We think others are greedy, but not me.

Yes, those big corporations who use slave labor in foreign countries are greedy, but not me.

(even though you buy their products) – Greed is blind

That guy driving a Ferrari, now that’s a guy who needs to hear a sermon about greed.  Not me, I drive a Kia.

(even though you bought that new Kia when your prior car ran just fine and was paid off) – Greed is blind.

Can you believe (whatever politician you hate) gave that ridiculously low amount to charity last year.  That’s a guy who needs to know Jesus’ teaching on generosity. 

(yet, in the last year, you’ve given less than 2% of your income towards the cause of Jesus) – Greed is blind.

Jesus says we can become so blinded by our greed, that we fool ourselves into thinking that sin doesn’t exist in our lives.

Been reading Job, as part of the 1-Year in the Bible plan.  (will it ever end)

Job 36:18

18 But watch out, or you may be seduced by wealth.

Watch out.  That phrase is used over and over in Bible as it relates to money and possessions.  The idea being translated “watch out” is this “constant state of being ready.”

In other words, keep your eyes open.  Pay attention. Because greed can sneak up on you.  And once it takes hold, it can be very difficult to see.

One of the oddest things, when we first said we were planting Refuge, and I was going to be a Pastor … people started confessing sins to me.  Weird.  Caught me off guard a bit.  I’m not a priest.

But James does say we are to confess our sins to each other so that we may heal.  (5:16)

Some sins are very clear.  I’m not going to have a friend say: I think I might have committed adultery.  If you’re committing adultery, you know it.

You don’t wake up and say, oh you’re not my wife.

But greed, isn’t so obvious. It can hide itself, and blind you, and we just keep on walking in the dark without even knowing it.

Don’t raise hands … but how many, when you get to the end of your day ask God to forgive your greed?

Most of us are like … God forgive me for yelling at my kids, I know that was wrong.  God forgive me for flipping off that person. Definitely wrong. God, please help me not do those things again tomorrow in the car pool line.

But how many of us pray, and confess our greed. God forgive me for being so materialistic. 

Most of us never consider the possibility that we actually think “greed is good”.

THOSE PEOPLE … yes, they are greedy, but not me.  Heck, I’m barely getting by. 

Perhaps, that’s the first warning sign that you are in fact greedy … you think you’re barely getting by.

When I used to go on mission trips to the DR, we’d sometimes work with locals and sleep in the same dorms. One night having good conversation (through a translator) … I asked, so what do you guys really think of Americans?  He answered.  Translator says … they think you wipe your ass with dollar bills.

I’m not trying to lay on guilt here.  You know this.  You know we are richer than 99% of the world.  And yet, half the people in this room think they are broke.  Why?

Because you’re comparing your standard of living to someone who has more than you do.  That’s being blind to greed.

If work for a company that hurts society or is unethical, but you stick with that job, because you need the money.  That’s turning a blind eye to greed.

I used to work in the mortgage industry, back in the hay-day (1997-2008).  I hated the loans we did.  I knew they weren’t good for society.  Yet I was blinded by my own greed, and would justify it.  If I don’t do this loan, someone else will.  At least I’m trying to counsel them with good financial advice in the process.

I also saw other people’s greed first hand.  Watching people consolidate debts using the equity in their home (multiple times).  NINJA (no income, no job) loans they knew they couldn’t afford to buy multiple investment properties.  Adjustable rates and negative amortizing loans.

After the housing collapse in SWFL, many people’s greed is what lead them to short-sell their homes when they could still afford to make the payments.  They took out mortgages, a PROMISE to pay money back.  But blinded by greed … they justified not honoring that promise.  Everyone else is doing it.  Well, the greedy bank should have not leant me the money.  It’s their fault.

We are a consumeristic culture.  Our blindness to greed keeps us from asking the hard questions.

  • What does our consumerism do to other countries?
  • What does getting an Amazon package per day do to God’s beautiful creation?
  • Do I need I really need this new gadget?
  • Why do I wear the clothes I wear?
  • Why do I take the vacations I take?
  • Why do I have balances on my credit cards?

Money is a way for many of us to find significance.  Where you live.  How you dress.  What you drive.

Having more money, can make you feel superior.  The higher you go up the income ladder, the worse it gets.

But we all do it.  Middle class people feel superior to the poor.  Sure, we give a little, but we still have a feeling of superiority.

I’ve heard it first-hand.  (real quotes from Christians)

If only those homeless people would get a job, and work like I do, they wouldn’t have to stand in these food lines.

If was those inner-city kids would I’d got an education, so I wouldn’t end up selling drugs, or sucking the welfare system dry. 

 Sure. Because if you were born in the same place, with the same parents, you’d turned out so much better.

For some, money is your security.  We’re not generous, because money gives us safety.  If I have money, then I have control over my future. 

But that again, is being blinded by greed.

You have no control.  Only God has control.  Your life could end tomorrow, and if that is God’s will, no amount of storing money is going to stop that.  (not saying planning is bad, but being greedy is)

Every single one of us here tonight has turned a blind eye to our greed.  And if you say you aren’t, that’s because you’re so blinded, you can’t see the light.

Can any of us really say we’re doing fine with our stuff and our money?  That we couldn’t be more generous?

I can’t preach about money as often as Jesus did.  We wouldn’t have a church left.  But who is holding you accountable?

When your sin is adultery, you know it.  When your sin is greed, who’s helping you see the it?

I admire Gordon Gecko’s character in Wall Street.  Not because of how he lived his life, but at least he was HONEST about his greed.

You can’t trust yourself on this topic.  The power of greed is to think it’s not true of me.

Who’s holding you accountable about how much you spend?  How much you keep?  How much you give away?

I encourage you to have someone.  Maybe someone in your same socio-economic class.  Or even better, maybe someone below your socio-economic class.

At the agency, we work with a financial advisor.  One of the first questions he will usually ask is how do you picture yourself 30-years from now?  The only way to know what you need to be doing now, is to ask that question.

But Jesus in the text tonight, I think takes that question a step further.  He says …

… store up your treasures in heaven.

He’s saying, how do you see yourself, not just 30-years from now, but 30,000 years from now?  Or 300,000 years from now.  He’s wanting us to see that what we do in this brief life, has an eternal impact.

I’ll end with a quick parable I heard recently.  Not in the Bible, but it’s called the parable of the stock broker.

A genie appears to a stock broker, says you have ONE wish. The stock broker thinks for a moment, and the asks for his wish.  A newspaper one year in advance.  The genie grants the wish.

Stockbroker knew exactly what he was doing.  He turns to the stock index of the paper, spent hours planning and figuring out what stocks he’d buy now, knowing he’d be set for life.

Sits back.  Drinks some coffee.  Thought he might as well read the rest of the paper.  Headlines.  Sports.  Skims through the obituaries.  There’s a name that caught his attention.  His own.

And suddenly his investment strategy changed.  Suddenly his plans for the next year were very different.  Because he was filtering everything with the end in mind.

Tonight, Jesus is trying to help us see that filter

Do not store up treasures here on earth, where moths and rest destroy them.  Store up your treasures in heaven.  In other words, use your time here on earth, to invest in your eternal portfolio.

I know you don’t like talking about money (any more than I enjoy teaching on it).  But greed is NOT good.  It’s a sin.

Who I am to give this message right?  I drive a Tesla.  I get that.  Someone actually called me out on that the last time I talked about money.  He’s like … it’s easy for you to be generous, you obviously have plenty of extra cash.    

I’ve been dead broke, and yes, I’ve had business success.  From experience, it doesn’t matter how much, or how little you have … we can all be blinded by greed.

I want to encourage you, if you’ve never given your money away, give it a shot.  Join our experiment at Refuge to use 50% of our giving outside our church walls.  Help us move the Church in a new direction, to set a new way things can be done.

I can attest that regardless of your financial situation, there are tremendous blessings that come with generosity.

I’ll close with some instruction from another church planter, some guy named Paul, who was trying to encourage the leader of one of the churches he planted (Timothy) and how he should instruct his congregation.

1 Timothy 6:17–19

17 Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.

 

Written by Brian Culbertson

Sinner turned Saint because of Jesus.

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