December 30, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Twenty-four hundred years ago, Plato, the Greek philosopher wrote a book called Republic. Now this is around 380 BC when he was living in Greece. At the time, Greece started to experiment with what we would know as governments. City- states started to become powerful, and they started to develop governments. So, Plato wrote a book about government called Republic, and in this book, Plato made a prediction. He said that when people live in a free democracy where nobody puts pressure on you about how to vote, eventually people will be ruled by a tyrant.
You have to understand how he arrived at this conclusion, because this logic has impacted all of your lives. If you’ve been around for more than twenty years, this has happened to you personally. Here’s what Plato said: When you have the chance to vote, people will typically vote for somebody who’s going to try to give them what they’re looking for. They’ll vote for somebody who will deliver some promises. Then in a free society, you’ll be caught in a situation where now your life is in jeopardy, and you will start to look for a leader who has the ability to protect you. When that happens, you’re caught in this dilemma between power and protection. It’s happened to all of us in this room. If you were alive on September 12, 2001, you had a choice to make: Either protection in an airport or on an airplane, or the freedom and the power to do whatever you want. We gave up a lot of freedom and a lot of power for the sake of protection on September 12, 2001.
Plato said, “You’ll vote for a charismatic leader.” (Think about Benito Mussolini or Adolf Hitler, who came to office making some promises.) Then at some point, life gets rough, or at some point you’re threatened, and when that point comes, you look to the leader to rescue you. Here’s what the leader is going to ask in exchange: “If you will give me some of your power, I’ll give you protection.” Like a frog caught in a kettle where you slowly turn up the heat, the leader keeps asking for more and more power, and the people keep asking for more and more protection. Eventually, the leader becomes a tyrant. Plato predicted this in 380 BC. It’s played out generation after generation after generation. Pretty soon, Senator Palpatine is not comfortable with a little bit of power; now he wants ultimate power.
This lie is being fed to you daily on the Internet and by commercials on TV. Here’s the lie that you’re being fed: If you will give up a little bit of money now, what you’ll get in exchange is happiness. The lie that you’re being told by Wall Street ad wizards is that, if you will spend a little bit of money on this thing or invest a little bit of your money over here, you’ll become happy in the future. The exact same lie that Plato predicted twenty-four hundred years ago is playing out again and again in people’s bank accounts because they have bought into the belief that if I give a little bit away, I can gain something in the process. The “something” that I can gain is happiness or satisfaction. Most of us know it instinctively, but we just don’t live that way. Money can’t buy you love.
I want to caution you. I want you to hear the whole sermon right up front in one sentence. Here it is: A full wallet cannot substitute or take the place of a full heart.
It doesn’t matter what somebody’s asking you to spend your money on. It doesn’t matter what that advertisement is for. Don’t believe the lie; You can’t buy your way to happiness. The lie that’s being given to us repeatedly in our society is, if you’ll just buy this thing or give to this area, then you will be satisfied, or then you’ll be happy on the inside.
Today for just a few moments, we’re going to pause from the book of Acts. If you’ve been with us for the last couple of months, we’ve been studying through the book of Acts. Today we’re going to look at, what does the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, teach about money? But I just want to be honest with you right up front. Today is not about money. Today’s not about debt. But we’re going to talk a lot about debt, and we’re going to talk a lot about money today. Today is about control. The question that Plato struggled with and the question that I want you to wrestle with for a few moments with me today is, who is in control of your money? Who’s calling the shots in your heart? Who’s calling the shots in your bank account? Who’s calling the shots in your life? There are a couple of thoughts that I want to share with you from the Bible today about this idea of control.
I. Surrender your salary to Jesus
The first thought from the Bible is, when you are really serious about following Jesus, he asks for total surrender, which means control over your possessions. I want to be honest with you right up front. Jesus doesn’t give any middle ground here. It’s an all or nothing proposition. What he’s really asking us to do is to surrender, not a small portion of our salary to him; he’s asking us to surrender all of it to him. You’re thinking, “Wait a second, Jeff. Are you telling me that Jesus wants me to write a check for my entire salary today and give it to him?” Maybe, but maybe not. What I’m suggesting is he’s asking you to surrender it to him and then trust him with what happens next.
There’s a specific passage from the Bible that I want you to see. I chose this on purpose. It’s found in Matthew chapter fifteen, and this is the second time Jesus has done a similar miracle. He has a crowd that has followed him. They have been listening to him preach for three days now. Let me be honest with you; this brother can preach if he can hold people on their seats for three days without food, which is exactly what Matthew says happened. Now he’s wrapped the sermon up. He’s getting ready to send the crowd home, and Jesus doesn’t want them to go home hungry.
Jesus called his disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with me three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, otherwise they might collapse on the way.” 33 The disciples said to him, “Where could we get enough bread in this desolate place to feed such a crowd?” 34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked them. “Seven,” they said, “and a few small fish.” 35 After commanding the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. They collected the leftover pieces—seven large baskets full.
I’ll give you a statement that all of you in this room know already, but I think we need to be reminded of this over and over again. Jesus can do a whole lot more with your money than you can. Did you hear what I said? -because I think you missed that. Jesus can do much more with your money then you can. What the Bible is describing is, sometimes we try to figure out “How am I going to take care of the bills? How am I going to meet all of my expenses? How am I going to be able to handle all of my problems? How am I going to be able to do all of this?” Jesus is reminding his disciples, “You guys missed it. I could do more with seven loaves and three fish than you can any day.” So why wouldn’t you be willing to surrender your stuff? Why wouldn’t you be willing to surrender your salary? -and I don’t mean just a small percentage of your salary. Why wouldn’t you be willing to take the whole thing and say, “Here it is. Jesus. I believe you could do a lot more with this than I could do with it.”?
You see, his disciples had to be reminded of this very principle because they lived in a materialistic society, just like you and I live in a materialistic society. Most of us (I’m guilty of this from time to time too) will use the phrase “my money”. But just to be frank with you, if you call yourself a Christian, it’s not your money. It’s not my money. It’s his money. If he decides that he wants one hundred percent of it, he can have one hundred percent of it. I don’t get a vote in this. What we’re really describing for is Lordship. Who is in control of your finances? -you or Christ? Most of us, if we’re honest, would say this is a real struggle because we live in a society that’s just inundated with stuff and surrounded by advertisements and voices that are clamoring for your money and for you to buy something else. Those things can’t satisfy you at the heart level. But the advertisements are trying to trick you into believing that they can. Many of us are going to struggle with this. When you start to struggle, there’s only one possible way to find freedom during the struggle, and its surrender. Jesus is not offering middle ground here. It’s, “Make me Lord of all, or don’t call me Lord at all.” -because it’s either all or nothing.
Without naming names, I’m going to tell you a true story about a couple that was in our church a long time ago. They were struggling with money problems, but that’s not how it started out. You see, one of them came to me and said, “I have a real problem, Jeff. I need you to drop everything and go right now. My spouse is threatening to kill himself.” So, I stopped everything and went to go see the spouse and ask the question, “I’ve had too many friends kill themselves to play games with this. Are you thinking about killing yourself?” He said, “Yes, I am. And let me tell you why. My wife is adamant about buying a new house. She, against my wishes, has gone out and put a down payment on a house that I don’t want, and we can’t afford. I won’t live under the pressure and the stress of having that house payment over my head for the rest of my life. I would rather be dead than have to live under that kind of pressure.”
When I finally was able to talk to these two, I let them know; I said, “You guys don’t have money problems. You really don’t even have a house problem. You have a control problem in your marriage, and one of the two is trying to control the other through money. You’re using money as a tool to control your spouse.” Money is very powerful and can be a very destructive tool in marriage. That’s why it’s the number one reason why couples will file for divorce in 2019. Jesus says, “You give me control. Give me control of all of it. You surrender all of it to me, and I will give you something that a 1.5-billion-dollar lottery jackpot can’t give you. I’ll give you freedom. I’ll give you peace. I’ll give you the ability to not have to struggle and not have to suffer through figuring out how you’re going to make your money work for the rest this month.” Jesus is saying, “Surrender all of it to me.”
II. Slay the debt dragon
Don’t make the fatal mistake of starting to spend more than you make, because when you start to get under the pressure of debt, the stress gets real. The bigger the debt, the bigger the stress. That’s why debt is a monster. It’s a tyrant. Slay the debt monster. Don’t let it have control over you, because now we’re not just talking about control over what you bring in over your possessions. Now we’re talking about control over your desires, when your desires are more expensive than what’s actually coming in each month. Listen to the language from the book of Proverbs.
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender.
This is the word that you would use for a prisoner. This is the word that you would use for oppression. The Bible is describing the oppression, the slavery, the struggle that debt creates. We live in a society where almost all Americans are under immense consumer debt, meaning nobody put this debt on you. You did it to yourself by spending more than you bring in. Since you spent more than you bring in, this is self-inflicted slavery. Did you know in America until 1833, when the Supreme Court outlawed it, there were debtor’s prisons? If you spent more money than you brought in, we will throw you in jail. The jail usually consisted of a brick factory. They would make you work in this brick factory until somebody paid off your debt.
Here’s the deal, the way debtors’ prisons worked in America: You didn’t pay your debt off by working for it. Somebody from your family had to pay that debt off. They had to write a check for the full amount of your debt. Typically, in American debtors’ prisons, they also had to pay because you were charged rent while you’re in debtors’ prison. It’s kind of like what the IRS does today with back taxes; you have to pay your taxes and more. So, this is what life was like in debtors’ prison.
This is an aside, but it’s important. I think there is still such a thing as enslaved to debt today. I mean this in all seriousness. It’s called payday loans. People show up, they sign for a loan, and they become enslaved to that loan because they’re in a predicament, and they need money right now. Millions of Americans are living enslaved to debt, and it’s self-inflicted. Any time you’re spending more than about forty percent of what you take in on bills and expenses, you start to get yourself in a bad way. The bigger that that percentage number gets, the worse the stress of debt becomes. I put a blog on our website on Friday about this. I can’t tell you as a pastor how many marriages, lives, and people’s futures have been destroyed because of debt. I hate what debt does to most Americans. If you’re going to get control of this area of your life back, this isn’t about how much comes in and how much goes out. This is really an issue of desire. When your desires are greater than what’s coming in, you have a problem, and that problem is going to result in debt, and the stress that goes along with debt is slavery. It’s oppressive.
The famous author, Charles Dickens, grew up in England as an orphan, eventually wrote some pretty successful books and became a pretty wealthy man. Charles Dickens’ philosophy on money was this: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” Spend less than you take in, and its happiness. Spend more than you take in, and its misery. I want to beg you. If you’re under the weight, the stress, of debt, please get financial freedom in 2019. Please work hard and do what it takes to get out from underneath that debt because it’s a beast that will control you, if you let it.
III. Learn to live within your means
The final thing that I want you to hear from the Bible today is to learn to live within your means. Let’s be honest. For most of us, this is not easy in our society. Dave Ramsey, the financial expert, says it this way: “Financial peace isn’t the acquisition of stuff. It’s learning to live on less than you make so that you can give money back and have money to invest. You can’t win until you do this.” This is a principle that the Bible describes for us. It’s not instinctive. You have to learn this. It’s found in Philippians. Many of you have the favorite Bible verse tattooed on your wrist, Philippians 4:13. Let me remind you of the context for this verse and three words that I want you to really focus in on.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. 12 I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me.
Let’s go back and think for just a second about what he’s saying here. Paul says, “I’m in prison, but I’m not worried, so I don’t want you to worry about me. My life is on the line. There is a death sentence hanging over my head. I’m not worried. I don’t want you to be worried. I’m starving to death in this prison, and I’m not worried about how I’m going to eat. I’m not worried about how I’m going to get out of prison. I’m not worried about any of that stuff. I don’t want you, my friends, to worry about me, because I learned something that I hope you will learn. I learned how to be content. I learned how to be content when God gives me a lot. I learned how to be content when God gives me very little. I know how to be content because Jesus is the one who strengthens me. I will not let circumstances dictate my happiness.”
I think you need to hear that. I need to hear that over and over again. I will not let circumstances dictate my happiness because I learned something a long time ago. I learned how to be content. When I watch Christians struggle with keeping up with the Joneses, it makes me crazy because I want to tell them, “The Joneses are broke and they’re miserable. Yeah, they got a lot of nice stuff, but they’re in debt up to their eyeballs. They’re about ready to file bankruptcy. Their life is terrible. It’s insane to try to keep up with the Joneses. Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. Their life is miserable, and they’re broke instead. Why don’t you just simply surrender, submit, turn it all over to King Jesus and trust him with any circumstance that you find yourself in?”
You see, the guy who wrote this when he used the word content, that word means satisfied. I’m satisfied when I have a hungry stomach, and I’m satisfied when I have a full stomach. Here’s what I think is interesting. That word in the Bible can also be used to refer to self-sufficient and self-reliant. I can handle my problems. I can handle my circumstances all on my own. Paul doesn’t let you come away with that definition of the word “content”. In fact, in verse thirteen he makes sure you can’t think that Paul is able to handle everything on his own. He makes sure that you know, “No, I am able to be content because I believe Jesus has got it all right in the palm of his hands, and he’s got me in the palm of his hands. So, if I’m hungry, I’m satisfied. If I’m full, I’m satisfied. When life is great, I’m satisfied. When life is not great, I’m still satisfied because I believe Jesus has got me right in the palm of his hand.”
Not long ago, I was talking to a good friend of mine. We were riding in his truck. It was around Christmas time and he said, “Jeff, can I tell you what happened to me last Christmas? My wife kept asking me last year, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ And I kept telling her, ‘nothing.’” But it wasn’t the standard, “I don’t need anything” or “you’re my wife; you’re supposed to figure this one out on your own.” That’s not what he meant by nothing. He said, “It was the first time in my life that I could ever look my wife in the eyes and say I don’t want anything and really mean it. It’s the first time that I’ve really experienced contentment, like I don’t want anything.”
You have to understand; this guy is a pastor in a new town living in a new house who started a brand-new church. Last year he needed everything. This church needed it. He was dependent every moment for just enough to keep the lights on, just enough to pay the bills. Literally he was concerned about where they were going to meet next Sunday. He could look his wife in the eyes and say, “I don’t want anything because God’s got it all under control. There’s really nothing that I want.” Do you know what his wife bought him for Christmas last year when he told her he didn’t want anything? She bought him a brand-new Ford F150 pickup truck. That’s what she wanted him to have. We were driving around in his pick-up truck, and he’s like, “I’m driving this truck because my wife wants me to have it, but I told her I didn’t want anything, so it’s her fault, not mine.”
So, what the Bible it’s describing for us today is, it’s so insidious; it is so dangerous. You and I live in a society and culture that is clamoring for you to spend a little bit here and buy a little bit over here. If you will give your money to this thing, it’s going to make you satisfied on the inside. You know what? No amount of money can fill up your heart. A full bank account or a full wallet can’t take the place of or purchase for you a full heart. I’m going to ask us as a church to do something this spring together. We’re going to go through Financial Peace University. I’m going to lead it. What’s the big deal about Financial Peace University? Well, the big deal is this program is not a magic formula. This program just tells you with a little bit of sacrificing and a lot of hard work, you can get financial freedom, like many other people have financial freedom. I’m going to challenge us. It’s time for the people of God to start living differently when it comes to the way that we handle money. I get it that folks that don’t know Jesus are clamoring to buy the next widget because they think that thing will satisfy them. We know it won’t. So, using our money the way people who don’t know Jesus use their money is simply insane. Really, what I’ve tried to do today is to show some of that maybe what you have is not a money problem. Maybe you don’t really even have a debt problem. Maybe what you have is a desire problem, and you need the Holy Spirit’s help to fix your desires.
• I have never totally surrendered to Jesus. Today, I turn to him for the first time.
– I don’t have contentment right now. Pray that God will help me find freedom from want this week.
+ I need the Holy Spirit to take control of my finances this year.
Define “rich.” What makes someone rich in your mind?
Has there ever been a time when you spent more than you made? Explain why.
Is it possible to have control over your money and let God control your money at the same time?
Would your life change drastically if you inherited millions of dollars? Explain why or why not.
Read Hebrews 13:5:
a. When can you stop trying to “keep free” from the love of money?
b. What would it take for you to be “satisfied” this week?
c. How can Jesus’s presence change the way we view money?
Pray for contentment this week.