Money – Possessed Or Possessor?

Seventh in a “Life’s Problems” series
Delivered August 22, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Sermon Text:
Mark 10:17-31

Sermon Notes are at the end.

Well, as you already know we are talking about money today. And when I was growing up talking about money was not a thing that polite people did. For example, parents would never share with their kids about money. It just wasn’t the thing to do. You didn’t want to put that burden on your kids. You never shared about family finances. In fact, in some families the husband wouldn’t even share with the wife about the family finances. You know, honey I don’t want to trouble your mind with these things you know. It’s an amazing sort of thing that was part of the culture then. It is certainly not part of our culture now.

And certainly ministers were not supposed to talk about money because there were a variety of reasons that ministers weren’t supposed to. For example, we are spiritual and we are supposed to be above things like money, so we don’t talk about it. Another reason was because ministers are supposed to be polite and talking about money is obscene. It’s like talking about bodily functions in public. It’s not something polite people do.

But Jesus didn’t think that way. Jesus thought a lot and taught a lot about money. If you open up the New Testament and go through the Gospels and mark off the times that Jesus talks about money, you will be amazed at how big an issue this is in his teaching to the people who followed him.

The issue of money is large not only in Jesus’ teaching, but in our lives. It’s a huge issue and not much of the news is good news. There is a lot of bad news out there with regard to money. For example, 37% of Americans report that they are in debt. 33% of born again Christians say it’s impossible for them to get ahead in life because of the financial debt that they have incurred, 33%. One out of every three people in the whole church. When you take a look at all of the people giving in the United States to charities, only one in every 20 households tithe, that is give 10% of their pre-taxed income to all nonprofit organizations added together among Christians. Only one out of 20. People as I talk to them here, talk about the pressure that finances have brought on their lives. It is certainly one of life’s problems and it’s a problem we need to talk about. So what I would like to do is I would like to read from the Gospel of Mark and let Jesus talk for a minute to us about money. It’s in Mark; Chapter 10 and I will begin on the 17th verse. It’s on page 700 and something in the pew Bibles. I know that’s a big help.

“As Jesus started on his way a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”
“Teacher,” he declared “all these things I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack, he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Let’s pray. God we pray that we will hear what we need to hear and that we will grab on in faith to the good news that you give us and that we will obey you in the things that you teach us, for we ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

So here in this passage Jesus is talking about personal finances. But he doesn’t bring up the issue really with this man. The man comes up with a question first that precipitates this whole discussion. His question is very pointed and it’s very personal. “What must I do to inherit eternal life? What must I do Jesus?”

Now Jesus before he actually answers that question, he says something that almost sounds belligerent. He says, “why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” It almost seems belligerent. You know why is Jesus snapping on that particular issue? I don’t think it is because he is belligerent, but because Jesus had a lot of insight with people and had this sense of cutting to the core of things and when this man came up and said, “good teacher,” he was using a phrase that good Jewish people in that time would never use of people. They would only use that word good about God. And so when he came up and used it about Jesus, something might have been wrong in this guy’s attitude. Maybe he felt like he was a pretty good guy and he could earn his way with God, and Jesus was even a better guy and so he was someone who could tell him how to really flush out the last little bit to make it with God. And Jesus says forget about making it on your goodness. There is no one good except God alone. And so what that means is that what Jesus says from then on is not going to tell us how we can earn our way with God, but is going to tell us how we can establish a relationship with the God who is already reaching out to us because he is good and because he is loving. So we’ve got to keep that in mind as we look at the rest of this. This is not about earning our way with God. This is about the core of our relationship with a God who is already willing to save us and to bring us to himself.

So let’s go in to this. He says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus points first to the Law in verse 19. “You know the commandments. Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t defraud. Honor your mother and father.” These are all things that are pretty much from the Ten Commandments. The basic rules that were given to Moses by God very early in Israel’s history and upon these basic commandments were all of the other laws built. So this is the core stuff about God’s relationship with Israel. And so Jesus takes some of these commands and tells them to the guy. You need to do these things. And the guy says in verse 20, well great, from my youth I have done these things. Now, one of the things that you need to do when you do Bible study is have a little bit of creative imagination. Okay, here Jesus lays out, don’t lie, don’t steal, honor your father and mother and the guy says. “oh well I have done that from my youth.” What do you think Jesus’ next words should be? Well in my imagination it’s, “Yeah you’re right. I’m sure.” He should be cynical about this in my mind. Because nobody is that good. But look at what Jesus’ actual reaction is. Jesus looked at him and loved him. In other words, there was a lot that was true and real happening in this guy’s life. This guy is coming up with a sincere question. This guy really wants an answer. He might have a lot of things messed up in his life, but Jesus loves him. And so everything we hear that Jesus says now to this man is going to come out love. Jesus is pulling for this guy. Jesus wants this guy to have the kind of relationship that will open up eternal life to this man and open up his life now to everything that God can give him. And so, then we come to verse 21 and we have to look at this carefully. Verse 21 is when Jesus says “one thing you lack, go sell everything you have, give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me.”

We’ve got to notice a few things about this verse or we are going to misinterpret it. The first thing we have to see is that Jesus did not say this to every rich person he met. There are other rich families that we meet in the New Testament, rich individuals, and Jesus doesn’t tell them all to give up everything that they have. In particular, Mary, Martha and Lazarus, a trio of people that we see at different times in the New Testament, Jesus never says that to them, even though they seem to be wealthy. There are other disciples that had enough money, there are other people who followed Jesus that had enough money to support Jesus and the other 12 and he doesn’t seem to say it to them. And the early church never forced that on new Christians. So we’ve got to begin by realizing that this is a personal problem, personal question and Jesus gives him an answer that is meant for him. However, we learn from this, what we learn that applies for all of us, is that money and possessions are so dangerous that they can stand between us and God. Money is not harmless. And so this is an issue that we have to deal with in our lives.

The next thing we need to look at here is that Jesus doesn’t need or want this man’s money. Take a look at what Jesus actually says. He says, go, sell what you have, give it to the poor and then penniless come and follow me. So Jesus is not saying liquidate your stuff so that I can have it to use. It’s not what is happening here. Because again, Jesus loves this person and so what this is is a prescription for the problem that this person is having that’s putting up a barrier between him and God. So Jesus doesn’t want or need the money. God doesn’t need our money. God will use our money. God will do wonderful things through our generosity, but he doesn’t need it and never are we to give because God needs it. We need it more than he does. And so what Jesus says to him when he says do these things, he says and gives a picture and a promise here and you will have treasure in heaven.

I don’t know whether any of you have talked to financial counselors, but inevitably somewhere in the discussion you start talking about long term investment goals versus immediate gratification. They might not use those words, but that’s basically what it is. In other words, are you going to buy that next car that you really want, even though your current car is okay, or are you going to save that money and invest it for retirement or for children’s education and all. You know you are thinking about well should I get a 27 inch TV or a 39 inch TV with the Dolby 5.1 and all of this and inevitably if you are talking to somebody who is a financial counselor they will say, you know your living room is only 8 feet long, a 39 inch TV might be a bit much and you could use that money to buy a house. You said that is one of your goals. Long term goals are always in tension with immediate gratification and here is Gods long-term investment plan. Give and you will have treasure in heaven. Jesus is saying that we can actually do something in this life that is secure and accrues and is kept waiting for us in eternity. And that’s a huge thing to say.

Randy Alcorn who wrote a book called, “The Treasure Principle.” It’s one of the books that you will find on the reading list out there if you want to take a look at it. Randy Alcorn points out that the single greatest obstacle to generous giving is the illusion that this world is really our home and that’s the biggest obstacle to giving is that we really at gut level believe that this is our final place. This is our home. And on some level or another that was the struggle that this rich man had because he believed all of the doctrine. He was a good practicing Jew, a moral man and yet on some level or another despite all the things that he believed, when push came to shove, the picture of eternity just couldn’t stand up against the immediate needs and opportunities of using his money without God in mind.

So we have a question for ourselves right now. Do we believe in eternal life? And if so, what does our investment portfolio look like in heaven right now? Jesus goes on and confronts an idol in this mans life. Remember in verse 19 Jesus talked about do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, these are all things from the law; from the Ten Commandments, but it’s only part of the Ten Commandments. It’s the second half. The Ten Commandments are roughly divided in to two halves. They use to call it the first tablet of the law and the second tablet of the law. The second tablet or the second half had to do with horizontal relationships, relationships with people. How do you treat one another? Well we don’t lie to each other. We don’t steal from each other. We don’t covet each other’s things and get greedy. We need to be responsible with one another. And this man said that you know on that level of life, I have been blameless. Here was a responsible man. Here was somebody you could trust and yet there was something wrong. What was wrong was his relationship with God, because what Jesus doesn’t talk about in those commands is the first part of the law, the part of the law that says “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have any other God beside me.” The second one that says, “you will not make idols of anything in heaven or on the earth and worship that.” What was wrong in this man’s life was the first part of the law, his relationship with God and that’s what Jesus zooms in on by focusing in on this issue of money, because the idol in this man’s life was not something that he had built in a corner and was worshipping. It was money and possessions. Honest, reliable, treated his family well and separated from God because of money. Jesus said in Mark 6:24, you can not serve both God and money. You can have money. You can enjoy money. You can use money, but you can’t serve money and serve God too. In other words what Jesus is focusing in on is not that it is wrong to be rich or that there is something wrong with money. There is something wrong with the love of money. Money is not harmless. We’ve got to remember that.

So again, we have to ask a question of ourselves. Are we possessed by our possessions or are we possessors? Do we control our money and our possessions? Or has it gotten out of control? If we control our possessions, if we possess things instead of them possessing us, then it means that our possessions and our money are tools. We can use those tools for our own enjoyment, but we could also use those tools to serve other people and to serve God. It means that we can part with our possessions and part with our money, if that’s what we need to do. It means that as we make more money, we don’t have to spend it all, but we can give it. It means that we can even scale back our lifestyle if that is what we need to do. That’s what it means to be a possessor instead of being possessed.

I think of two people that I met in Japan that were working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship there. They were doing campus ministry, Graham and Kathy Smith. They were serving there in Japan and lived in a tiny little apartment trying to raise kids there. They were both medical doctors and gave up lucrative medical practices to go to Japan and be missionaries.

One of the things that I had the joy of doing in the church that I was part of earlier, is I was kind of the Jerry Cooper, the former associate pastor here, well I was the equivalent at First Presbyterian Church, so I was involved in mission giving and let me tell you it’s a whole lot of fun to be involved in seeing hundreds of thousands of dollars just go out in to the mission fields and seeing missionaries supported, national churches supported and there was this one lady in the church, Alice, an older lady who gave incredible amounts of money. I am talking about more zero’s than you are every used to looking at on a piece of paper. She would give it. Whole buildings. Whole churches were built in the Philippines because of one check that she would write. Houses were built for national pastors and she would write the check. Missionaries were supported. Well she was getting older and frail and she asked me to visit her at her house and I said sure. She wanted to talk to me about mission giving. That is what she always wanted to talk about. It was her gift. Well I went to her house and I went there expecting to go to a mansion with acres of land, you know an old southern plantation or something, because the way she was giving she had to own half of Baton Rouge. And I got there and found this modest little suburban house that hadn’t been redecorated since 1964 judging by the colors and there was a wooden stereo in there. I had this image that you couldn’t give like that unless you had so much money that you could first lavish it on yourself and then lavish it on others, but she and her husband made a decision long earlier in life that they could make more money, but they didn’t have to use it all, because the joy in their life was giving it away and she didn’t want anything to take away that joy. There is a freedom that comes by getting this issue of money under control. There is a freedom that comes in scaling back and giving yourself some elbowroom that you can respond to these moments that God might want you to do something unusual. There are people in this congregation right now who are scaling back their lifestyle so that they can have this room to respond to God if God steers them in a new direction.

I remember one time as an InterVarsity staff member, we were always raising money it seemed like and I went one time talking to a professor on a campus and I told him about the work of InterVarsity and he reached in his pocket and he pulled out a hundred dollar bill, as the first gift towards supporting me. And he explained as he gave it to me that every time he got paid, if that hundred dollar bill wasn’t there, he would first set aside his giving and then we would take an additional hundred dollars and put it in his wallet because that was God’s petty cash. If something happened that he wasn’t expecting and there was a need that he didn’t know about, he was going to be ready to be right up at the plate and give some. It was an amazing experience to see that sort of support and that sort of freedom.

Tim Sanders was one of the speakers at the leadership summit that some of us at church went to last week. He’s the leadership coach for Yahoo. Okay, so this is a prominent guy and he talks about having this freedom and flexibility too. He was at an airport and he was having his shoes shined by a shoe shine lady because he was getting ready to go to a big meeting and he needed to look sharp, and this woman was sharing about her goals, her dreams, her aspirations, and he was touched by that and in this conversation he started to realize you know that she had a hope for herself and her children that was a lot bigger than this job and he knew he couldn’t do anything big for her, but he wanted to encourage her so he said, “look I have just written a book and I’ve got a bunch of flyers about this book, why don’t I make you my publicity agent for this airport area.” And so he gave her the flyers and he gave her some money and he hired her on to help fire that dream for her. Well he came back to that airport a number of weeks later and he was in one of the airport shops there and he hands in this credit card, the lady with the credit card gets ready to put it in and she says, “Oh Tim, Mr. Sanders, how is your book doing?” He has never met this woman before in his life and he says, “You know about me?” She says, “Yeah everybody here knows about you.” She reached underneath and pulled out a stack of xeroxed copies of the flyers that he had given the woman. She had not only given out all of the originals, but she had made copies and was giving those out too. She was so inspired by the trust and opportunity that this man gave her. But he was able to give it because he was free.

Are we possessed or are we possessors? If we are possessed it means that we have already decided we have to have that next car, we have to have the bigger house, we have to have this, we have to have that and so we are not free for these wonderful moments that we can connect with the need and vision and future of other people. Money can blind us and money can bind us. Take a look at what happens in verse 22 in this passage. “After Jesus says this to him, the man’s face fell and he turns around and walks away sad because he had great wealth.” This man had the opportunity to follow Jesus. He was invited into the circle. He could see Jesus’ miracles. He could hear his teaching. He could be together with the other followers of Jesus on that day when the Holy Spirit came down so miraculously. He could have been there with them. He could have known Jesus then and known Jesus face to face forever and he turned it down for 20 or 30 years of a little bit more comfort and security. I think he drove a bad bargain.

Now we know that the grace of God is big enough, the way that God honors our faith even as we struggle with these issues, so our salvation doesn’t depend on us getting all of this right in our lives, but the joy and the power and the usefulness and the ultimate treasure in heaven does depend on us getting this under control now. It’s an important part of life for our sakes. Now there can’t be any argument about the fact that this is hard. When we start talking about the control of certain areas of life including money, this is hard stuff and that’s why we’ve got books and book lists and seminars and counselors and all, because we want everybody to have every opportunity to experience the freedom of getting debt and bad spending patterns and wrong view of possessions, get that dealt with so we can experience the joy and freedom that God has given us in Jesus Christ.

And there is good news here. God is able to do these things. First of all, God is able to save people despite how blinded we are. If we were left up to ourselves, there would be no hope, but the grace of God, Jesus says with God all things are possible, God can break through these things and has in so many of our lives here. We can praise God for that. He’s got us secure in his hand because he can do what we can’t, but he also can free us from the things that bind us even now, things that we can’t seem to get under control on our own, God can help us with these things. That’s the good news here, is that God loves us and accepts us and provides a way of forgiveness for us, now where we are, but also provides us the power to change. There is a promise here that comes up in verse 29. I tell you the truth, no one who leaves home, brothers or sisters, any of these things, will fail to receive 100 times as much. Some of it in the present age and then also eternal life. The promise is, is you can’t outgive God, that there is nothing we give up, there is nothing we put aside, there is nothing we sacrifice anytime at any point in our lives, that God isn’t ready to give it back somehow into our lives including the gift of eternal life. That’s an incredible promise, is that we are secure in this because as we give, God is very sure that one way or another he gives back to us. It might not be exactly dollar to dollar sort of stuff; it’s not that sort of exchange. He gives us the freedom, the purity, the enjoyment, the joy, the growth and then the eternal inheritance. So, as we close on this, I will give you another question. Do you believe in God, and the promise of eternal life with him? Then if you do, invest in what lasts, handle money with eternity in mind.

Let’s pray. God, it is hard for us to even believe sometimes that there is more to life than just what we experience right now. But Jesus was resurrected from the dead and has brought to us a promise that there is more and that you hold that secure for us, and so we pray that in faith our lives might change, that if we haven’t turned our lives over to you that the first step we will take is to joyfully give our lives to you and receive the forgiveness that you are willing to give us and the change that you can work out in our lives and that we will begin to walk and follow Jesus. But if we have already made that decision Lord, we pray that we will make the following decisions, the many other decisions you give us, one of which is freeing up the way we handle our money. So give us the help we need, give us the grace we need and we believe that you’ve got good news for us there, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Jesus doesn’t command everyone to do this.
Jesus doesn’t want the money.
God’s long term investment strategy
Jesus confronts the idol.
Money is not spiritually harmless.
Are you possessed or possessor?
Handle money with eternity in mind.
To dig deeper into this topic and for further help, see our recommended reading list – topic: money/finances. Check out the list and find a book that will help you grow in your walk with the Lord in the area of finances.

Also, we will be planning a one-day seminar called “Journey to Financial Freedom” on Saturday, October 2nd. Watch for details to come.

Saddleback Church has some useful tools for handling your finances in their Financial Skills and Tools section. In particular, see the “Personal Financial Profile” and the “Monthly Budget Ledger” under “Download Financial Tools.”