Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24
Several years ago, before his death, Millard Fuller the founder of Habitat for Humanity addressed the National Press Club on public radio, on which he recalled a workshop he conducted at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with 200 pastors in attendance.
The assembled pastors quickly pointed toward greed and selfishness as the reason the church never had enough money to accomplish its mission in the world.
Millard then asked this seemingly innocent question: “Is it possible for a person to build a house so large that it’s sinful in the eyes of God? Raise your hand if you think so.”
All 200 pastors raised their hands.
“Okay,” said Millard, “then can you tell me at exactly what size, the precise square footage, a certain house becomes sinful to occupy?”
Silence from the pastors. You could have heard a pin drop.
Finally, a small, quiet voice spoke up from the back of the room: “When it is bigger than mine.”
This gets to the heart of an important theological question, “How much is enough?”
Does the answer vary based on the individual? What may be enough for me might look like “too much” to some and “not enough” for others? Yet it is Jesus who instructs us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” and Saint Paul who instructs Timothy, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” That is a lot less than my concept of enough.
The pursuit of “more” is nothing new for humanity. The problem is that very few of us ever cross the threshold of “enough.” The biblical word for that threshold is called contentment. When it comes to money and possessions, will we ever be content?
I can’t help but think of corporations who are in the business of making money. I have no problem with that at all. That is how they stay in business, right? I buy things from corporations that I want (but not necessarily need). They provide the things I want and I am willing to give them money for their products.
I was curious and l looked up US corporations with the largest cash reserves. Here is what I discovered: the top 17 corporations in the US with the largest cash reserves have over $800 billion ($800,000,000,000) in the bank. That’s just short of a trillion dollars. Individual cash reserves of these corporations range from $261 billion to $12 billion. Good for them, they earned it. It is their right to do with it as they wish, it is their money. Besides I helped contribute to some of those savings accounts.
BUT… I am concerned when I hear voices of individuals from our Capital that say these corporations do not have enough money. Moreover, they say these corporations need more money to invest in the economy even though they already retain a large amount of money in reserve already. At the same time, there are people in our country who struggle to make ends meet.
I am not interested in debating possible tax policy but I point it out because it is a real life and current example about “more” and “enough.”
It is not money itself that is the issue. It is a tool. It is the love of money that is the issue.
Is this just human nature and we are helpless? Yes, it is our nature to accumulate. After all, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers and they hoarded resources because they weren’t always sure where their next meal was coming from. Unfortunately, that behavior became ingrained in humanity. Are we helpless? Absolutely not.
We can turn to God and God’s word for help. Once again in 1Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy in this way, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” 1Timothy 6:17-19
When Paul says “Command those who are rich…” he is talking about us. Yes, I know we can look at other people and say, “They are rich, not me.” Compared to the people of Paul’s time and most of the world today, we are all rich.
Paul isn’t scolding the wealthy because they are wealthy. Not at all! He is reminding us that we shouldn’t put our trust in money because it is untrustworthy. Remember 2008?
Instead we put our trust in God who promises to take care of us. Once again, this isn’t about taking care of your household or having money. It is when we trust our assets above God- we have a problem. When we start to believe we don’t have enough and we need more for our own security our faith in God wanes.
Don’t miss the word of hope at the end of this passage. “…be generous and willing to share…” This is not a self-serving comment by Paul. He isn’t advocating that Timothy tell the people to give to Paul. Instead, Paul is telling us that the antidote to the accumulation of more is to give away. Replace the mindset of “more” with “less.” When we give, we become more like God, because God is a generous giver.
I am thankful for the generosity of Christians everywhere but especially at Bethel Lutheran Church. Your love of Christ shines through your relationships, your service and your giving.
As we begin our journey to the manger to see the Christ child, let us be generous in all that we say and do.