Are You Rich?
(Excerpt from the sermon)
Sermon Series: Unfortunate
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 be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share...
-1 Timothy 6:17-18
Do you think that you're fortunate? If you look the word fortunate up in the dictionary, it says this, “Receiving good from uncertain or unexpected sources . . . Lucky.” Let me repeat again. Fortunate means that you receive good from uncertain or unexpected sources. Lucky. Now, if that's how you define fortunate, I'm not sure Christ followers can describe themselves as fortunate because we know the source of all of our blessings.
It's not from something uncertain or unexpected. In fact, the passage in 1 Timothy 6:17 will tell us He is God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. But as I look at that, again, I ask, “Why me? Why us?” I'm not fortunate or lucky. I'm blessed. All good things come from God. He's the source of all good things. Psalm 31 says, “How great is His goodness stored up for those who fear Him?” So why then do I live as though I'm not blessed? There are times in my life when I forget that comparison and I start to believe and live as though I am unfortunate. Most people in the world, 92% of the world, would look at my life and they would wonder why there would ever be any kind of discontent in my life. But, if I'm honest, sometimes there's chronic discontent.
I want better vacations. I want better golf clubs. I want better clothing. I want more free time. I don't want to work so hard. I want more liberty and freedom to do what I want to do and when I want to do it. In fact, I want to be rich. But then the question comes: How do you know when you're officially rich? Does the wife come home one day and say, “Honey, I went to the bank today. I've got some news for you. We're officially rich. Today we officially crossed the line. Tell the kids they can tell their friends, the Vines family, we are rich.” Now to further complicate things, the Bible uses the word “rich” and it assumes a definition. And the definition of rich in the Bible includes someone who has basic shelter. Now, when I say basic, I mean basic. A roof over your head. Not 4, 5, or 6 bedrooms in the flashy part of town.
You simply have a roof, somewhere to sleep at night. You have basic shelter. You have basic food. You may not have extravagance, but you have enough food to survive day after day. And you have basic clothing. You might not have a closet filled with clothes, but you have clothes, something to put on your back, something to keep you warm in the winter. According to the Bible's definition of rich, if you have these things and you still have money left over, which we call expendable income, then you're fortunate, you're rich, you're blessed. But the question comes back, “Why us right here, right now in this nation? Why are we so blessed?” Acts 17:26 says, “From one Man, He made all things, all nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth. And He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” That tells me that God determines who lives where and when. Which tells me that my soul has been beamed down to this place and God has covered it with His tent. But why me then? Why do I get a better life than other people, than 92% of the rest of the world? It can't be because I've done something in eternity past.
Somewhere along the line, you begin to realize that is the wrong question because you can never come to the answer. Only God knows the answer to that question. But there is a question that we should be asking, and it's the one that's been dominating my life lately. And that's this. What now since I am blessed, what next? Am I accountable? Is there some sense of responsibility? Where to from here?
In this text we learned that we're supposed to do good. This is not good deeds. This is the overarching good of helping people far from God come near. And if that's what doing good is, if that's what being responsible with what God has given us looks like, then what would irresponsibility with what God has given us look like? And the answer is self-aggrandizement. To follow Christ is to give up, to sacrifice, to generously give to the things beyond ourselves. To refuse to follow Jesus is to give to self, to hoard, and to give begrudgingly whatever's left over after you've spent your resources on yourself. We've been blessed. We're not that smart or good. And finally, we're supposed to be, as a result, rich in good deeds. “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”
Command them, notice, to do good, not be good. Being good is in the rest of the Bible. But this is about doing good. This is not the average type of good. This is the rich people type of good. He expects us not to be average in our good deeds: like helping the lady across the street, giving loose change to a homeless person, or mowing the neighbor's lawn. All those are good things. Giving your leftover clothes to the Salvation Army. Donating what you don't want to the church rummage sale. All good things, but that's the poor type of good. I want them to be rich in their good deeds. Extravagant in doing good, recklessly good to leverage the extra that I have blessed them with for the sake of the world in a way that only rich people can do. Because rich people have extra time and extra money that 92% of the world doesn't have.
They may not feel that they do, but they do. Only 8% of the world can take Saturday and Sunday off. The other 92% live from day to day. Vacation days and holidays are for the rich. They are only unfathomable ideas to the poor. But ironically, stats tell us that the more expendable time and income you have, the less percentage you give away in service to others. Are you with me? So the more God blesses you, the less of your time and resources you give away. Alternatively, the less extra time and income you have, the greater the percentage you give away in service to others. So the poorer you are, the more percentage-wise you give away to something outside yourself.
Why is that true? Common sense? Because rich people have lots of competing options. Rich people can use airline points to travel, own a second home in a getaway, drive over to Las Vegas and gamble, go to Palm Springs and play golf, go to the beach, and spend every weekend traveling and playing and entertaining themselves. Because they have the resources to do so. Rich people have so much extra time that they have to think about how they're going to fill it with personal stuff. God says the problem is that your thinking is all wrong. You should be thinking: How can I fill up my extra time? Not with pleasurable satisfaction, but how can I fill up this time? How can I leverage my time for something other than myself? How can I be rich in good deeds? As we began this series, I prayed that you would take a look at your life and that you would realize you've been blessed. Desiring more and more is a spiritual issue. We will be held accountable. I know that I will be held accountable for the way I use God's blessings. And that ultimate joy comes from generosity toward the loftiest endeavor.
Now, for those of you who thought this was gonna be a tithing sermon, you were wrong. This is simply a general sermon about what you're doing with your life and all the resources God has given you. I'm reading a book by my favorite author, Philip Yancy. By the way, people ask me, “What are your favorite books?” You ought to read everything you can by Phil Yancy. Great depth in his thinking. He's honest. He speaks what is in everyone else's heart that few will write about. In April of 2007, he was asked to speak to the student body at Virginia Tech. After the Korean student fired 174 rounds at faculty and staff killing 32 students and staff and finally turning the gun on himself. Truly a troubled young man. Yancy struggled to find the words to encourage these students and I greatly appreciate what he said because I read the speech.
There were no platitudes, there were no superficial answers, just honest dialogue. What was really interesting though was the fact that Yancy spoke to them in a neck brace because he barely survived an auto accident just months before he was scheduled to speak. In fact, one of the doctors said it could have easily taken his life. So Yancy writes about his experiences. He stands before these students who are hurting at the loss of 32 of their teachers, staff, and students. Students who are looking for answers. He doesn't try to give them anything superficial. And he finishes the speech by saying, “For seven hours I was trapped in a car that had rolled down the embankment in a secluded area, unable to move, hoping that someone would stumble upon my vehicle, rescue me from this bitter cold and from this internal bleeding. For seven hours, I just lay there on my back, unable to move, looking up at the night sky.”
He said, “As I lay there, I realized how much of my life focused on trivial things during those seven hours. I did not think about how many books I had sold or what kind of car I drove, or how much money I had in my bank account. All that mattered boiled down to this: What have I done with my life? And am I ready for what's next?” That's my call to you as we enter this series. What are you doing with your life? What are you doing with everything God has given you? And here's the thing, Eugene Peterson says this, “Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have claws and can grasp a branch securely. They can walk, they can cling, but they were made to fly. And until they fly, they're not thriving. They're not truly living. The grace and beauty of all it is to be a bird is missing.”
What a tragedy. And then he says, “So it is with humans. We can stockpile. We can hoard, we can latch onto, and we can cling to our wealth. But we were made to be generous. And until we are, we will not know what it is to be human. The grace and beauty of all it is to be us will be missing.” This is what I hope and pray for in this series, that somewhere along the line, you would realize that: 1.) You're going to be held accountable. I'm going to be held accountable. We're going to be held accountable for all these blessings God has granted to us. And 2.) What the best life that we could possibly live looks like. We were made in the likeness and image of our savior. We were made to live a life of staggering generosity. In the way that Jesus gave Himself to us, we now give ourselves to others.
Watch this Full Sermon