Luke 16:13b-14
Money: God’s Chief Rival
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Two books helped me prepare this sermon on finances: “Money: God or Gift” by Jamie Munson, and “Worth Its Weight in Gold” by my friend Dr. John Yeats, Executive Director of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

Talking about money is controversial, and can be infuriating. Thus, when discussing it, humor helps. Laughter helps the medicine go down. A farmer once asked his neighbor, “If you had 500 hogs, would you give me half of them?” “Yes.” “If you had 100 hogs, would you give me half of them?” “Yes.” “If you had 10 hogs, would you give me half of them?” “That’s not fair. You know I have 10 hogs.” Generosity by speculation is easier than the real thing.

I once heard of a Pastor who preached a sermon on tithing, thereby making his skinflint congregation furious. After the sermon, he passed his hat to receive the offering. Not one penny had been given. Unshaken, the Pastor said it was time to give thanks, and prayed, “Lord, thank you for letting me get my hat back.”

Luke 16:13b-14 (Holman) “You can’t be slaves to both God and money. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him.”

The Pharisees made the fatal mistake of loving money. It is a snare many have found themselves tripped up in. The wealthiest among us have warned us about the illusion of grandeur presented by wealth. Vanderbilt said, “The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it.” Andrew Carnegie noted, “Millionaires seldom smile.” Henry Ford claimed, “I was happier doing a mechanics job.”

We are skeptical of these statements. One person posted on Facebook, “Lord, let me be the one You use to prove winning the Lottery does not bring happiness.” Maybe a better prayer would be, “Lord, use me to prove winning the Lottery occasionally does bring happiness.”

Few groups in religious history have fared worse in public opinion than have the Pharisees. These angry opponents to Jesus meticulously followed man-made rules, and berated those who didn’t.

The Pharisees were self-righteous, and scorned the same sinners Jesus
befriended. The Pharisees were harsh hypocritical show-offs. In other words, for lack of a better way to say it, the Pharisees were pharisaical.

Despite my harsh analysis of the Pharisees, Jesus did compliment them for one custom they followed. The only practice Jesus ever commended the Pharisees for was tithing (Matt 23:23 and Luke 11:42). In this, they were exemplary.

When the topic of tithing comes up, many Christians don’t realize Jesus Himself spoke on its behalf. Sadly, even after we explain this fact to believers, they will often say, “Well, it’s only in the New Testament once.”

Actually, it’s in there twice, but even if it were mentioned only once, that should suffice. Remember, John 3:16 is given only once, yet none of us would ever disregard it.

Any Christian bias against tithing in particular, and giving in general, is not Bible based, but stems from our own self-centered desires. Let me be blunt. A subtle hypocrisy haunts us. Many in this room will go to the polls this November and angrily vote against politicians who advocate helping people more with government assistance.

I’m not here to make a political statement on how tax dollars should be dispensed to help people. That is an extremely complex issue. My purpose is to point out a serious (shall I say hypocritical?) flaw in the thinking of some. Many do not hesitate to speak harshly against people on government welfare, yet at the same time sit in our pews, guilty of church welfare.

Don Whitney calls this “spiritual hitchhiking”, taking advantage of a free
ride. Week after week, many enjoy the preaching, singing, edifice, carpet, and air conditioning, on someone else’s nickel. They don’t like to tithe, but don’t hesitate to benefit from other people’s tithes.

To be totally honest with you, this fact can crush a Pastor’s spirit. Again, humor helps. One Pastor, frustrated with the church’s delinquent givers, told his secretary to send them a letter admonishing them to catch up in their giving. A week later he received in the mail a check from a member for $25,000. The member apologized for falling behind in his giving, and then told the Pastor to tell his secretary there is no “Z” in miser, “skinflint” is one word, not two, “low down scoundrel” was three words, not one, and “cheapskate” and “tightwad” are not verbs.

Lest you deem me too harsh, let the facts speak for themselves. Twenty percent of USA Christians give nothing to not only a church, but also to charities of any kind. A majority of Christians give very little. Only about a tithe of God’s people tithe.

Many believers are kept from tithing due to their huge debt. Money trouble is the number one source of tension in marriages. These anxieties usually are not caused by catastrophic illnesses, large medical bills, necessary expenditures, or too little income.

Most financial bondage results from regularly spending too much money over a period of years. In our culture, the main culprits are too much eating out, college loans, clothes, houses, cars, and credit cards.

Spending more than we earn is made possible by easy credit. But we must not blame our money troubles on creditors. Credit is not our root problem. The primary cause of money woes is wanting and buying more than we can afford. Debt merely funds our out-of-control spending habits.

We do need to get totally out of debt as quickly as possible. I urge you to do so. But debt is not the ultimate issue. It is rather a symptom of the real problem—our desire for stuff.

Most of our desires to have possessions are not inherently evil, but they are never-ending. Our money, on the other hand, is limited. Infinite desires coupled with finite resources means we must curb our desires. We have to prioritize, and eliminate many items from our wish lists.

Proper giving to God requires us to rein in our wants, to deny ourselves. We have not learned to give until we have consciously sacrificed something to make it happen. C.S. Lewis said it well:

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities [giving habits] do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities [giving] expenditure excludes them.

In other words, if we make what the Joneses make, and they are unbelievers, we should not be keeping up with them.

Giving is not a minor spiritual matter. Do not slough off the serious danger inherent in how we mishandle our money. “Money is an exact index to a man’s true character” (Richard Halverson).

Craig Blomberg, in his book “Neither Poverty Nor Riches,” says how we handle materials is “the most important test-case of one’s profession of discipleship.” He claims materialism is “the single biggest competitor with authentic Christianity for the hearts and souls of millions in our world today.” Money is God’s chief rival.

Before we recklessly cast off Blomberg’s assertion, let’s remember the role money plays in our lives. We exchange our time, talents, energy, and efforts for money. It thus becomes an expression, an embodiment, of us. When we give money, we give ourselves. My money is, as it were, me.

“A checkbook is a theological document; it tells who and what you worship” (Billy Graham). If a stranger looked through our checkbook register, what things would they decide are important to us?