Being Open-Handed and Generous

March 18, 2019 in Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes, Meditations, Thankfulness, Wealth, Work

Ecclesiastes 11:1–2 (NKJV)

1 Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth.

The Word of God is full of financial counsel and admonitions. Hence, the way we handle our money reveals whether we are men and women of faith or unbelief, whether we are wise or foolish, whether we are righteous or wicked. Because finances are such an integral part of our religious devotion, we include the bringing forward of our tithes and offerings each week in worship. One of the men who leads us in prayer also represents us in bringing forward the fruit of our labor to offer to the Lord. He sets the box of tithes and offerings before the Lord’s Table as a visible symbol of our intention to consecrate all of life, including our finances, to the Lord. We are mere stewards of that which the Lord has entrusted to us.

As we bring the tithes and offerings forward each week, we sing a song about finances. During Advent and Lent, times of preparation for Christmas and Easter respectively, we sing these verses from Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 – Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth. So what do these verses mean and how should they affect our view of our finances?

The author of Ecclesiastes counsels us in these verses to be generous, open-handed men and women. The image of “casting your bread upon the waters” invites us to think of useless waste. After all, what fool casts bread on the water? It just goes to waste! Similarly, the miser insists that giving to others, being open-handed and generous, is a waste. What return is there from giving to the poor and being open-handed with one’s wealth? But our text assures us that there shall be such a reward: Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. So Proverbs 19:17 promises us: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and [the Lord] will pay back what he has given.”

The next verse reminds us to be generous and open-handed in this way because of the uncertainty of life. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth. Unlike the unrighteous man who reasons from the uncertainty of life that he must hoard all that he has, the righteous man reasons from this same uncertainty that he must be generous and open-handed, giving a portion to seven, even to eight, so that if he is ever in like circumstances, the Lord will pity him. “Blessed is he who considers the poor;” Psalm 41:1-2 reminds us, “The LORD will deliver him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, And he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies.”

So what of you? Are you open-handed and generous? Are you striving to be a faithful steward of that which God has entrusted to you? Or have you instead hardened your heart to the poor? Moses writes in Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10 – “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs… You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.”

So reminded of our calling to be open-handed and generous with that which the Lord has entrusted to us, let us confess that we have often been selfish instead. We have often hardened our heart and shut our hand from those who are truly in need of assistance. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Honesty in our Business Dealings

February 24, 2019 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Covenantal Living, Giving, Justice, King Jesus, Meditations, Principles and Methods, Responsibility, Wealth

Proverbs 11:1 (NKJV)

1 Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight.

The Proverbs regularly remind us that the Lord is passionately concerned about the marketplace. Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord – He hates them – but a just weight is His delight – an honest transaction causes God to rejoice. Our text reveals that the Living God takes an interest in the food we buy, the gasoline we put into our cars, and the drinks we consume. Unfortunately, however, we often get His interest in such things wrong.

On the one hand, we can get it wrong by imagining that the products we buy or the foods we consume will get us closer to God. If I avoid pig, God will be pleased; if I consume more fruits and nuts, I’ll get closer to God. Nothing, however, is further from the truth. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 8:8, “But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.” Want to avoid gluten or sugars or transfats or squid? Go for it! Want to eat all of those at once? Enjoy. Do you want to put regular unleaded in your car? Go ahead. Premium unleaded? Knock yourself out. In the new covenant, what you use does not matter. None of that will get you closer to God nor distance you from Him.

Second, we can get it wrong because we imagine that these things exist in a little secular part of our life. Since it doesn’t matter what we use, we reason that the way we make use of them must be totally irrelevant to our spiritual life. So we divide the sacred and the secular. Our sacred life is our church life or our prayer life or our Bible reading time; our secular life is our trip to Fred Meyer or our visit to the Exxon station. But there is no such secular/sacred dichotomy. All of life is to be devoted to the service of God. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). All of life is sacred.

So what do the Proverbs teach us about the marketplace? They teach us that, with some notable exceptions, God’s concern is usually the nature of the transaction not the material transacted. God is concerned with the way you are treating your neighbor. He wants honesty in the transaction. He wants sellers who sell what they advertise and buyers who pay with honest money. His interest is in the nature of the transaction – because it is in that transaction that you either love your neighbor or hate him.

So what does our text require? On the one hand, it requires business owners to be honest in their dealings with customers. Don’t claim to sell that which you are not selling. When you have sold a pound of licorice, give a pound. When your pump disperses a gallon of gas, make sure it disperses a gallon. When you bill a certain number of hours on a project, make sure you spent that many hours on it. Be an honest seller.

On the other hand, it requires customers to be honest in their dealings with sellers. Don’t use counterfeit money; don’t buy something so that you can simply use it for 30 days and then return it; don’t rack up debt on a credit card that you cannot repay. When you’ve obtained goods from a supplier or services from a medical professional, don’t perpetually delay payment when you have the ability to pay. Be an honest buyer.

Reminded of our obligation to love others in the way we transact business, let us acknowledge that our culture is awash with injustice and that we ourselves often treat others unjustly – we do those things which the Lord hates. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Blessing of Riches

September 10, 2018 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Wealth

Proverbs 10:22 (NKJV)

22 The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it.

Marcion was an early church heretic who pitted the god of the Old Testament against the god of the New. He claimed that the god of the OT, whom he called the Creator, was evil and dictatorial while the god of the NT, whom he called the Father, was good and merciful. While Marcion’s teaching was condemned as heresy, the temptation to pit the OT against the NT has persisted throughout church history. One of the areas this has been repeatedly done is in the area of wealth.

Many are tempted to say that while the OT presents a positive view of wealth , the NT gives us a negative view of wealth and urges us to forsake our wealth for the kingdom of God. Didn’t Jesus tell the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and give it to the poor and to come follow Him? Didn’t Paul say that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil? The answer to those two latter questions is, of course, yes. Jesus did tell the rich young ruler to sell his belongings and Paul did declare that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. But they did so because the OT declared the same things.

Solomon reminds us today that wealth in itself is not a problem. The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He [i.e., the Lord] adds no sorrow to it. Abraham was a wealthy man and a model of faithfulness. David was a wealthy man and a man after God’s own heart. Barzillai the Gileadite was a very wealthy man and provided for David when he was fleeing from Absalom. Joseph of Arimethea was a wealthy man and prepared a tomb for our Lord’s body. Wealth in itself is not a problem; it is a gift from God.

But like all blessings, wealth is susceptible to misuse. Wealth is a tool; a tool that is to be used in the service of our Creator and Redeemer. As a tool, as a gift, it is something for which we are to give thanks to God and use to the glory of His Name. We are to give thanks for it and use it to the glory of His Name. We are to beware lest it ever come between us and Him – as it had with the rich young ruler. We are not to set our heart on our riches. We are to hold our wealth with an open hand – permitting God to give and to take as He sees fit. To have God and wealth is an incredible blessing; to have God and no wealth can be borne with contentment. But to have wealth and no God is hopeless misery.

So consider a couple ways that we can be tempted to sin in regard to wealth. First, we can permit others to make us feel guilty for our wealth. Social justice warriors will happily do so. Many in our political arena will flog you and make you feel guilty and try to use that false guilt to steal your freedom. “You shouldn’t have so much; think of all those poor people with so little; vote for higher taxes, more regulation.” But if wealth is such a bad thing, then why in the world would we want to distribute it to others? They might catch the infection! The reason that we want to share wealth freely through charity not through state enforced redistribution is because we know it is a blessing. It is a gift from God – so the righteous man shares it freely but never feels guilty for having it. So repent of your false guilt.

Second, have you permitted your wealth to intrude between you and your God? The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Augustine spoke about disordered affections. Our affections are disordered when we love God’s gifts more than God Himself. This is idolatry. It is to make God a means to an end rather than treating God as our great end. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So repent of making wealth more important than God.

Reminded that we often view wealth and use wealth in a sinful manner, let us confess our sins to the Lord and seek His forgiveness. And as you are able, let us kneel together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Created for Work

May 6, 2018 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Creation, Meditations, Wealth, Work

Proverbs 10:16 (NKJV)
16 The labor of the righteous leads to life, The wages of the wicked to sin.

When God fashioned us in the beginning and placed us in the Garden of Eden, He immediately commissioned us. He gave us a duty to fulfill, a task to perform. Our role in the Garden was not to sit back and luxuriate; it was not to be in a perpetual state of leisure. God gave us a mission to accomplish, a work to complete. Six days we were to labor and do all our work; on one we were to rest and worship. So what was that labor? God placed us in the garden, we are told in Genesis 2:15, to tend and to keep it.

First, we were to tend the garden. We were to cultivate the ground and to make it even more fruitful than it already was. We were to extend the order of the Garden to the rest of the world and offer the fruit of that labor up to our Creator as our service of worship and adoration. Second, we were to keep the garden. We were to guard it and protect it from destruction – whether destruction from our own hands or from those of an intruder.

What this means is that work was part of the paradise of God. We were designed to tend and keep the earth to the glory of God. Work is a gift from God. Tragically, we rejected our twofold calling. We failed to protect the Garden from the serpent-intruder. We permitted him to lead us astray and we rebelled against God. Consequently, the blessing of work became twisted and tainted by the curse of toil. Thorns and thistles, death and destruction, came in the wake of our sin. Work and toil became intertwined.

But God did not abandon us to toil. He sent His Son Jesus to rescue us from our rebellion and to restore us to fellowship with Him. By faith in Jesus’ Name, He forgives our sin and gives us His Spirit so that we can once again tend and keep the earth to the glory of His Name. Solomon reminds us, “The labor of the righteous leads to life…” Those who fear God work to the glory of God and so bring life to the world. While still troubled by the effects of sin and required to wrestle against thorns and thistles, we do so as those who have been reconciled to God and restored to the glory of work. Because Christ has risen from the dead, Paul reminds us, “Our labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Teaching children, changing diapers, balancing accounts, building homes – every dimension of earthly labor can bring glory and honor to our Redeemer.

Nevertheless, there are those who still refuse to work for the glory of God. They violate the first and greatest commandment which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Consequently, all their labor remains intertwined with toil and is dishonoring to God. From digging ditches, to cleaning toilets, to painting landscapes, to healing the sick – the wages of the wicked lead to sin.” Those who do not fear God sin even in the littlest things and, since sin leads to death, their toil leads to meaninglessness and death.

So here’s what Solomon would have you remember: God the Creator has put you in the world to labor for His glory. He has sent His Son to redeem the world that you might be reconciled to Him and do all your work motivated by a desire to glorify His Name. So do you? First, do you love work or do you love leisure? Do you value the tasks that God has given you to perform or are you constantly endeavoring to avoid them? Second, what motivates your labor? Are you working just to make money? Working just to make your payments? Or are you working for the glory and honor of the Lord?

Solomon reminds us to labor faithfully to the glory of God – this is the pathway to life. But often we shirk our responsibilities, often we fail to offer our work up as worship to the Lord, often we fail to protect our workplaces from those who would destroy them; we have need to confess our sins to the Lord. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Storing up wealth or living hand to mouth?

April 30, 2018 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations, Wealth

Proverbs 10:15 (NKJV)
15 The rich man’s wealth is his strong city; The destruction of the poor is their poverty.

In the text before us today, Solomon highlights the blessing of wealth and the danger of poverty. On the one hand is the blessing of wealth. The rich man’s wealth is his strong city… In the ancient world, a strong city was a place of refuge and protection from the ravages of warfare. Walled cities, or strong cities as Solomon calls them, were havens of security in an insecure world. Like the walls of these strong cities is the wealth of the rich man. His wealth enables him to hide himself, his family, and his friends in times of hardship or difficulty. His wealth is a source of security and protection. It is a blessing from God.

On the other hand is the danger of poverty. The destruction of the poor is their poverty. Whereas marauders, thieves, and foreign armies often left strong cities alone, they frequently laid waste small villages and unwalled cities, plundering property, slaying the populace, and sometimes devastating the surrounding countryside. These unwalled cities were constantly exposed to danger and oppression. Likewise, the poor man. When hardship arrives, the poor man has no resources upon which to draw to sustain himself or his family. His poverty is his destruction.

Solomon’s words remind us, first, of the blessing of wealth and the value of saving. Living hand to mouth is sometimes necessary but never wise. Always better to save for a rainy day, to build one’s wealth, so that in times of hardship you have a strong city to which you can flee. In Scripture, it is not sinful to acquire wealth; it is sinful to have a lust for wealth, it is sinful to use your wealth to promote wickedness, it is sinful to steal from others in order to gain wealth; but it is not sinful to acquire wealth. The rich man’s wealth is his strong city… and is, therefore, a blessing from God.

Solomon’s words also remind us, second, of the blessings of spiritual wealth. It is the man or woman who knows the character and promises of his God who will be able to endure times of hardship and suffering. And this type of wealth, spiritual wealth, is a wealth that any child of God can acquire whether he be rich or poor. On the one hand, Paul writes of the rich: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they may be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim 6:17-19). On the other hand, James writes of the poor, “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (2:5) Spiritual wealth is a strong city which any child of God may acquire by the grace of God.

So what of you? Are you endeavoring to store up wealth in order that you may have a strong city in times of trouble? Are you avoiding debt and endeavoring to save or are you just living hand to mouth? Are you growing in your knowledge of God’s character and promises so that you may be able to weather the tribulations that will come your way in this life or are you spiritually poor? Remember the words of Solomon: The rich man’s wealth is his strong city; The destruction of the poor is their poverty.

Reminded of our calling to think of tomorrow and to store up wealth for times of trouble, let us acknowledge that we often fail to do so. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Beware the Treasures of Wickedness

November 5, 2017 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations, Wealth

Proverbs 10:2–3 (NKJV)
2 Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, But righteousness delivers from death. 3 The LORD will not allow the righteous soul to famish, But He casts away the desire of the wicked.

The proverbs of Solomon guide and teach us in order that we might be full of wisdom; in order that we might govern our daily affairs in a way that glorifies and honors our Creator and Redeemer, the Lord of hosts. In Proverbs chapter 10, Solomon begins to identify practical ways that the law of God teaches us wisdom. So today he urges us to place our confidence in the Lord, not in riches.

Because God is our Father, He knows that we need food, clothing, and shelter. He is not ignorant of our necessities and of the fears we have of going without, nor of the desires that drive us to accumulate more. Jesus responds to our fears and longings in the Sermon on the Mount:

““Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31–33)

Jesus reminds us to put our trust in the Lord in the face of our fears and longings, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, knowing that He will care for us. Righteousness, Solomon reminds us, delivers from death.

Unfortunately, rather than trusting in the Lord, we often let our fears and longings drive us to sin. We become so consumed with the longing for wealth that we ignore or violate God’s law in order to obtain more. For example, we steal from God, withholding our tithe from Him and acting as though what we possess is our own and not His gift. We also steal from others; we take money from the cash register, steal credit card information, or lie on our declarations of income in order to obtain a larger grant. We vote to tax the hard won earnings of our neighbor or to confiscate his lawful inheritance. We become miserly, refusing to share with others the wealth that God has shared with us. In all these ways and more we endeavor to accumulate, in the words of our text, “treasures of wickedness” imagining that they will profit us or protect us. But they won’t. Why not? Because God is watching and He casts away the desire of the wicked.

So reminded that we are to place our trust in the Lord, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and that we are not to accumulate for ourselves treasures of wickedness, let us confess that we often permit our fears and longings to drive us to sin. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Exploitation of the Poor

August 31, 2008 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Wealth

James 5:1-6 (NKJV)1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. 4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

It seems from our text today, does it not, that James takes the exploitation of workers by their employers very seriously? It seems, does it not, that James warns such folks that judgment is sure to come and that the additional riches they have obtained at the expense of others will only add fuel to their fire of their own destruction on the Day of the Lord?

And so, reminded of the necessity of justice; reminded of the necessity of showing mercy to those entrusted to our care; reminded of God’s hatred for those who exploit others; let us kneel and let us confess our injustices to the Lord.