Freely Receive, Freely Give

1 Timothy 6:17–19

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Two weeks ago we said that what we believe will come out in what we sing. So what do the songs of our generation say about what we believe about money? One of the earliest pop songs I heard growing up as a child of the 80s went like this:

The boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right
‘Cause we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl (Madonna)

Then as a high schooler in the 90s, I remember BNL singing about “If I had a million dollars,” and Puff Daddy rapping that “it’s all about the Benjamins.”

But it’s not just a Millennial thing. Go back a generation to Barrett Strong’s lyrics, famously covered by The Beatles:

Money don’t get everything, it’s true
But what it don’t get, I can’t use
I need money (that’s what I want)
That’s what I want (that’s what I want) (3x)

Money (that’s what I want)
Lots of money (that’s what I want)
Whole lot of money (that’s what I want)

Give me money (that’s what I want)
Lots of money (that’s what I want)
Always need greens (that’s what I want)
That’s right baby that’s what I need (that’s what I want)

To such a shamelessly materialistic message, of course, you’ll find the occasional alternatives, like “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”:

It’s like the more money we come across
The more problems we see

Or more recently Jessie J’s “Price Tag”:

It’s not about the money money money
We don’t need your money money money
We just wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag
Ain’t about the uh cha-ching cha-ching
Ain’t about the yeah b-bling b-bling
Wanna make the world dance
Forget about the price tag

These alternative messages about money, which are few and far between, end up being pragmatic and reactionary, rather than principled.

And as we might expect, we find manifestations of both poles in the church. When the world, by and large, views money as a god to bow before at almost any cost, and communicates expectations of luxury at almost every turn, it’s understandable that many professing Christians will give in, paying very little attention to the ocean in which they’re swimming, while others will respond sharply and be prone to overreact.

But more important than all the messages being sent at the societal level, we have some very sobering warnings and encouragements from Scripture related to money, wealth, and possessions, not the least of which are from the mouth of Jesus himself:

Luke 6:20, 24, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. . . . Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”

Luke 8:14, Some who began well “are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.”

Matthew 6:19, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy.”

Matthew 6:25, “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. . . . Life [is] more than food . . . and clothing.”

Luke 12:33, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with . . . a treasure in the heavens.”

Luke 14:33, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Luke 18:24, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

So, as you can see, this topic is of great importance — enough so that it deserves its own treatment in our five-part series on “The Things of Earth.” In this series, as Pastor Joe has said, we are “exploring the practical tension between a love and a passion for God and our desire and pleasure in the things of earth.”

Two weeks ago, we looked at how God communicates himself to us through creation.

All of creation reveals who God is and what he is like. . . . We taste and see that honey is good as a way of creating categories in our experience so that we can taste and see that the Lord is good. . . . The practical payoff of understanding this relationship is that we don’t suppress our joy in earthly things, but instead we let them soar since they carry our joy in God with them.

Then last week we talked about the twin dangers of idolatry and ingratitude. Two ditches: on the one hand, our hearts are prone to dishonor God by supplanting his place in our hearts with created things; on the other hand, our hearts are prone to dishonor God by not receiving his gifts with gratitude. Both are errors. And both are serious. Romans 1:21 says that at the heart of humanity’s sinful condition is that “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The road to idolatry is paved with ingratitude.

Today, now, we turn to money, wealth, and possessions. And you might say, well, we’ve already dealt with this implicitly. We’ve established the categories that the created world, and the culture that God’s creatures sub-create (like wealth and currency), is meant to reveal God. God’s gifts in the created world are not to eclipse him, or be rejected outright. He does not mean for us to be idolaters or ingrates. So money, wealth, and possessions must fit into those categories. And the answer is yes.

However, money, wealth, and possessions introduce some new considerations. Enjoying a Toyota Camry, which you own, is not the same as enjoying a sunset, which we all share. And choosing a new Lexus over a used Toyota is not the same as hiking to a mountain vista to accentuate your enjoyment of a beautiful sunset. And having large sums of money hidden in the bank and in the stock market is not the same as having your new Lexus parked in front of the house.

Let’s start with some brief definitions:

  • Let’s define “wealth” as resources for human life and flourishing, including goods and services. Wealth is good, and we Americans are remarkably fortunate. Wealth includes a place to sleep, food to eat, transportation in all its many forms, computers and Internet access and television and books, doctors and dentists and hospitals and insurance and education and clothes. These are all products of humans doing what God made us to do: pouring our day-in, day-out lives into taking the raw materials of the world and not only feeding and sheltering ourselves (which is wealth), but focusing on some particular field of production or service to meet human needs. God made us to use and generate wealth. When we obey God’s command to work with our hands, and often even when in leisure, we create wealth.

  • “Money,” then, is a culturally defined valuation of wealth (“Money is the measure of wealth,” Pastor Joe). Money makes possible the efficient transaction of the goods and services (wealth) that we have produced. Money can be moved around quicker than wealth, and also hidden much easier, and so introduces some distinct issues for the human heart.

In the rest of this message, we’ll focus explicitly on money, as the very nature of it, as a measure of wealth, rather than wealth itself, raises some challenging questions for us as Christians. So let’s face the challenges head on, and make money the focus, and let the principles then extend to all wealth and possessions.

1) Money Is from God

Here we affirm specifically what we’ve been affirming in general in this series. But it’s important to make it explicit. Look again at verse 17:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

Despite all that Jesus and Paul have to say about how riches (which refers to both money and wealth) can be a great danger to our sinful hearts, it is not riches themselves that are sinful. We are sinful. Paul doesn’t tell the rich that they are wicked by virtue of being rich. Or that money is the devil and they better unload it quick. He doesn’t say that riches are a curse from God. But that they are provided by God for our enjoyment — and he gives two clear and essential charges here to the rich (which are relevant to just about every American, even if you think of yourself as poor relative to the people you’re choosing to compare to).

####Do Not Be Prideful, but Thankful

“Charge them not to be haughty.” Not to be prideful or arrogant. The rich in this world should not view their riches as a tribute to themselves. They should not let the value of their portfolio, relative to others, deceive them about the value of their person, relative to others.

Christians should view our wealth, honestly earned, as a gift from God — and thus something for which to be fundamentally and explicitly grateful. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Do you pause over your paycheck, or your government check, and say, “Thank you, God, for your provision”? Do you have any rhythms of gratitude, not just over meals, but over your financial numbers online, over your personal budget spreadsheet, over your paid-off credit cards, over your Cities Church Pushpay login, in which you say, “Thank you, God. This money is from you. This is your provision for me and those I support. This is not a tribute to my worth relative to others. This is your allowance to me and to my family” — and more basic than my heart aching for more is the reflex, “Thank you, God.”

Consider applying 1 Timothy 4:3–5 to every inflow of revenue: “God created [this] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

So the first clear charge in verse 17 is “do not be prideful, but thankful.”

####Do Not Set Your Hope on Riches, but God

The second is do not “set [your] hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God.” It is so easy for our hope to gravitate toward the visibility of finite earthly possessions and resources and bottom lines, rather than the invisible God and his inexhaustible possessions and limitless resources. It’s easy to let our hope latch onto a little finite, temporal figure than God’s infinite, eternal wealth.

This text is so helpful in giving us our bearings toward earthly wealth. On the one hand, we are not to set our hope on it. Money is not God. As Jesus says, you cannot serve God and money. On the other hand, Christians in this age are to receive wealth as a gift from God. He provides for us for our livelihood and enjoyment. In other words, wealth is not to be our God — and we’re not to see it as evil in itself. Money is not God, and money is not the devil.

Let the word “enjoyment” have its full effect here. God means for us to receive his material gifts in creation and in currency and actually enjoy his provision. Honor the giver by enjoying his gifts. Treasure the provider in the enjoyment of his provisions.

So, money is from God. It is a measure of his Fatherly provision for me to steward, not a measure of my value relative to others. My fundamental response, then, is to be thankful to him, and set my hope on him, not money. Freely you have received.

2) Money Is for People

Enjoying God’s provision emphatically does not mean hoarding it. Money is from God, but we receive it as conduits, not cul-de-sacs Look again at verses 18–19:

They [the rich in this present age] are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

So, freely you have received — be thankful. Now, freely give — be generous. Gratitude and generosity. Two quotes from Things of Earth:

When a gift is received as it is meant to be — gratefully, cheerfully, happily — it has the effect of enlarging the soul and overflowing outward in lavish giving. Having experienced the joy of receiving, we seek to expand this experience to others. (193)

The first step in cultivating a generous and giving heart and life is to cultivate profound gratitude to God for what he has provided. (196)

So being genuinely thankful for, not prideful about, what God has given us makes us the kind of people who are inclined to give to others. We acknowledge how incalculably generous God has been with us, and we increasingly become the kind of people who further enjoy his provision by giving to others, as he has given to us.

Just as all creation reveals God, and his provision reveals him to us, so also our giving to others is an opportunity to communicate God to them. Our openhandedness with our finances and possessions shows God’s openhandedness with his infinite wealth and resources. Our being quick to give to others shows the glory of our Father’s heart as a giver.

Money, from God to us, is not meant to stay with us. Money is meant to go to work for the sake of people. To make a fully human life possible for ourselves and those we support, and to communicate love to others, in our own house, in our city, and among the nations.

Money is a tool that God means to put to work, through us, for the Great Commission to disciple the nations, beginning at home and going to the ends of the earth. God means for us to leverage material wealth he has given us for a wealth of love toward others. Money is for helping people hope in God.

Another way to say it is money is a tool in the hands of eternity. Note the contrasts in verse 19:

  • the present age vs. the future

  • life now vs. that which is truly life

  • “storing up treasure” on earth vs. “storing up treasure” in heaven (which echoes Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 6:19–24)

One manifestation of this good impulse is what is called a “wartime lifestyle.” Christians, in view of eternity, and the global mission, are not to live hoarding for ourselves the luxuries of peacetime, but leveraging our efforts for the war effort, since there is a war going on — a war more real, with even more at stake, than any merely human war. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). There is a global war going on for the souls of humanity — among the unreached, in our own city, and in our own homes — and so we see money not as a tool for amassing our own possessions, for trying to build our own heaven here on earth, but as a tool in the hands of eternity, for others, for communicating love, showing God, and greasing the skids for imparting the gospel.

A quick word about saying that leveraging our money in the mission of love begins at home: we’re not encouraging selfish spending under our own roofs, but selfless generosity and sacrifice. We all know there are very selfish ways to amass wealth in our homes (on personal comforts and private enjoyments), and there are selfless ways to communicate love to spouse and to children in our own homes, and to neighbors and coworkers and fellow believers.

So, as Joe writes in his book, “Money exists for people.” Money is not God, and money is not the devil. Rather, it is from God, and is a tool in the hands of eternity for introducing people to, and helping them go deeper in, the infinite riches of knowing Jesus. Money is for helping people hope in God.

Which brings us to our third and final point.

3) Money Is About Jesus

Money not only can grease the skids to win other people to Jesus, but money serves as an opportunity to show whether Jesus is the greatest treasure of our hearts.

How we make use of our money — whether you feel like you have plenty, or whether you feel like the purse strings are tight at every turn — is a pointed opportunity to honor our Lord. Just as money serves as an objective measure of wealth — its virtue is in taking the complicated and otherwise intangible reality of wealth and quantifying it in an objective figure — so what we do with our money is an especially pointed proving ground of what really reigns over our hearts today, and compass for what will drive our hearts tomorrow. “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”

What we do with our money profoundly reveals what we value — and what we value most, we honor most. Which means this message is not just about having money and using it in Christ-glorifying ways, but it’s also about what we do when we don’t have money. Money is not finally about treasures in our hands, but what our hearts treasure. Beneath the external person, who may be relatively rich or poor in this present age, is the inner person who is greedy or content, quite irrespective of how much money is in the bank.

The Christian who is most ready to handle money is the one whose heart is most satisfied in Jesus. The relative rich have no inside track for this; nor do the relative poor. Being rich doesn’t mean you’re greedy; being poor doesn’t mean you’re not. The issue is whether Christ is your great possession. Is the certainty of the risen Christ, seated in power at his Father’s right hand, the strength of your soul, or is it the uncertainty of riches (whether riches you have, or riches you don’t have)? We want to say with Paul,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)

Ultimately, it is possessing Christ as our greatest treasure that enables us to receive wealth with gratitude and put it to work in the service of love for others, or to go without. Hebrews 13:5–6, “the climactic promise of Hebrews” (O’Brien):

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

The greatest of God’s provisions for us is not earthly wealth — good gift as it can be. It is not money — useful as it can be for showing love to others and advancing the kingdom. It is not earthly possessions, but it is the very presence of God himself in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. God’s greatest gift is God himself. And when he is the lodestar of our soul, when that truth is fixed in our hearts, we are the freest of all people — free to receive money and wealth with gratitude, free to give them freely to others to show love, free to leverage them in good works and propelling the good news forward to complete the Commission, and free to sacrifice otherwise normal enjoyments for the greater enjoyment of giving (“It is more blessed to give than to receive,” Acts 20:35), and free even to have our money and wealth taken from us in a way that magnifies our King.

So, Cities Church, let’s make much of Jesus in our gratitude and in our generosity. Freely you have received. Freely give.

To the Table

As we come to the Table, we come not only to again recalibrate our hearts to Jesus as our greatest possession, but also to admire the one who not only gives generously, but who gave sacrificially. He made the ultimate sacrifice, that we might be eternally rich in him — not in this age, but in the one to come. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He laid aside the infinite riches of heaven — wealth beyond what we’re even able to begin dreaming — to come among us in our spiritual poverty and give his own life to give us everything in him. He freely gave. We freely receive. And in the receiving, in freely receiving here at the Table, we increasingly become the kind of people who, like our Father, are cheerful givers.