"Freely you have received; freely give."
I want you to imagine the following scenario with me. Imagine you are going on vacation for a couple weeks and you ask a friend to manage the house while you’re away. Feed the dog, mow the lawn, water the plants, pick up the mail, all the usual things. Your friend agrees and a couple days or so after you leave your friend decides that rather than simply managing the house, she’ll instead take the liberty to make some wholesale changes. And so she decides to knock out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, you know, for a little more open concept feel. She decides the bathroom is in need of a refresh, so she paints it bubble gum pink, her favorite color. She notices that the way the couches and T.V. in the living room feel a bit off to her, so she changes the setup completely. And thinking that you’d appreciate a little more privacy from your neighbors, she builds a 10ft tall wall around the perimeter of your backyard. And since in this hypothetical story I can make up whatever I want, she somehow accomplishes all of this within a two week span.
Two weeks later, when you return home, shocked by all that’s been changed, you say to your friend the thing that any homeowner would say: “What were you thinking? This isn’t your home!”
Friends, as strange and improbable as this story might sound, the liberty that the friend took in redesigning and recreating the owner’s house, in so many ways, is the very same mistake that we are tempted to make when it comes to our own finances and resources.
Very often, we assume the role of the owner. When in reality, we are called to be stewards, for God indeed is the owner of it all, he has simply entrusted us to steward it well.
And just as a homeowner has the ultimate and final say when it comes the design of their own house, we as God’s stewards, as his money managers, must continually ask the question, “What is God’s design and vision with the money and resources he has entrusted us with?” A question that the Rich Fool in our parable today failed to ask.
One of the curious things that you’ll notice about Jesus and when reading the four gospels is just how often he’s talking about money and possessions and stewardship. For numerous reasons, stewardship matters to Jesus. There are more than 2,300 references in the Bible that speak to money and possessions with Jesus being the source of many of those verses. Sixteen of the 38 parables Jesus told in his ministry were about money and possessions. Jesus talked about wealth more than he talked about heaven and hell combined. Yes, stewardship matters to Jesus.
And though we won’t say everything we could about stewardship today, we in fact don’t need to, as Jesus will give us ample opportunity to do so in the weeks and months ahead.
So for today, we’ll simply make three key observations. Here’s the first,
Everything we have is a gift from God
In responding to a person’s request to see his family’s inheritance divided so that he can claim his own portion and be rich, a request motivated by greed, Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Fool, saying:
“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
What great fortune for a farmer to have! A crop so abundant and fruitful that there’s not enough room to even store it. Which creates a great problem of sorts, what in the world do you do with all that abundance?
But yet, before we see what he decides, I want you to see something. This might be one of the most important parts of the parable. Notice what it says in this first line.
It says, “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.“ It does not say, “A rich man yielded an abundant crop.” No, it says, “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.“ It is Jesus’s subtle way of saying that everything we have is a gift from a good and gracious God. Every time we are blessed with abundance, we ought to trace it back to a good and gracious God. Now, I’m not dismissing the value and dignity of a hard day’s work. Not at all. But yet, do we have the eyes to see that the land that he has given where crops can grow, the minds that he has given us to learn and grow and dream and create, the strength he has given us to do physical labor, it’s all a gift from a good and gracious God. Friends, everything we have belongs to God. He is the owner, we are the stewards. After all, here at our church, as in many churches, we don’t call the ministry that our elder Alden Cashmore oversees as Ownership, but rather Stewardship.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to Him and it is all from Him. If we see this, we’ll be in the right frame of mind to give it away. After all, we didn’t earn it in the first place, rather we’re simply giving out of what’s been given to us.
And when you live in light of this reality, this brings us to observation number #2, and this comes from Pastor Randy Alcorn,
To see God’s generosity towards you not primarily as an opportunity to increase your standard of living, but rather your standard of giving.
This is one of the many mistakes the rich man made. He saw his abundant crop as an opportunity to increase his standard of living, saying this about his storage problem:
‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
Friends, where does your mind go when you are blessed with abundance, when you receive God’s generosity, whether it be in the form of a job promotion, or family inheritance or say the stimulus checks from a year or two ago? Do you immediately think to yourself, “Honey, think about what we could do with the house” or “Wow, think about where we can travel to this summer!” Now, to be clear, neither of those are bad things, they are often good things, and what’s convicting for me personally is that my mind immediately things, “How about we just save it?” and yet that is precisely what the Rich Fool did and he was severely rebuked and punished for it.
The point and challenge is this: to consider God’s generosity towards you not as an opportunity to increase your standard of living, but rather your standard of giving. And by the way, we’ll wrestle with the life-long tension and necessary balance between giving, saving and spending in just a few minutes.
That’s the second observation, here’s the third:
Worldly vs. Godly Wisdom in Stewardship
The rich man has an abundant crop, tears down his original barns, builds bigger ones so that he can put his feet up and take life easy.
And in response to all of this, God calls him, of all things, a fool. Which I find so stunning. Because think about it, what word would the world use to describe all of this, a man who saves shrewdly, plans ahead and enjoys a blissful life and early retirement. The world has a word for this. We call it wisdom. And yet, God calls this man a fool.
Now, how can this be? Maybe it’s because he’s foolishly assumed a role that’s not his - as the owner, rather than a steward. Maybe it’s because he hoarded his wealth, rather than shared it. And yet, the Rich Fool isn’t chastised for being selfish, though he certainly is, he’s chastised for being foolish.
And that’s because he’s invested his wealth in what is temporary, rather than eternity. He’s invested his wealth in a way that only has value here on earth, rather than in heaven. He has invested his wealth in something that won’t last.
As Jesus will say in our passage next week, Provide treasure for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
Jesus wants us to steward our money and possessions not in terms of life here on earth, but rather in light of eternity.
Or to frame it in the negative, to store up your treasures here on earth is a foolish and poor investment. For on earth he says, our treasures are consumed by moths and rust, where thieves break in to steal. That is, all of our stuff here on earth, all of our possessions that money can buy eventually go bad. All of our stuff has an expiration date, whether it’s the milk in our refrigerator, the car in our garage or the clothes on our back.
And so store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, an investment that’ll never go bad.
So for example, give money to the local food bank here in town or towards a non-profit devoted towards curing cancer, help people see what heaven will be like, a place where no one will go hungry and no one will sick or suffering. Buy a cup of coffee for and sit down with someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Throw a birthday party for a little kid whose family might not be able to afford one. Support a missionary oversees who is sharing the gospel with a town or village that might be hearing about Jesus for the very first time. Give to the church. All of it is a way in which we can be, as Jesus says, “Rich toward God." Invest your treasure in treasure that’ll last and that will have eternal, rather than temporary significance. That’s true and godly wisdom when it comes to our stewardship.
Now, in the midst of all of this, like me, you are probably trying to wrestle with all sorts of practical realities, wrestle with the life long tension and necessary balance between giving, saving and spending, which are the three main things we can do with the money God has entrusted us with. We see and likely personally understand the value of all three.
As much as this passage may seem kind of anti-retirement, or against long term financial planning, we do see the bible affirm in places the wisdom of saving our money. The problem with the rich fool is just how far to the extreme he goes with his saving and how for whatever reason, when he sees his wealth, he only sees himself. It’s like God and others do not exist.
We also know that spending is important. And not just for the sake of paying the heating bill, or milk or bread or gas for your car, exorbitant as the price may be, but also for non-essential items as well. We serve a good and gracious God who has given us things to enjoy in this world. And so spending money on things like a date night with your spouse and paying for a babysitter might very well be one of the most God glorifying things you can do with your money because God wants to see marriages not simply survive, but thrive.
And so in midst of all of it, how do we find a healthy and godly balance between giving, spending and saving? Here I could give you statistics or give you more principles, but since stories often tell it best, I’ll tell you a story instead.
Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at my previous church outside of Seattle, once told the story about how his kids were little he and his wife Christina took their three kids to Disneyland.
And in their first day at the park, they got dinner at one of the food courts there. And Scott said, he took the food to the table and handed it out to his kids and all three of his kids said, "Thanks, dad." And the guy next to him overheard them and said to Scott, "Your kids thanked you for feeding them?" And Scott said, "Well, at home, no. But whenever we're in a restaurant or a place like this, yeah, they always say thank you." The other man said, "All day, I've given my kids everything they ask for, every toy, every candy. I said no to them once, and they threw this massive fit, and here your kids thank you for feeding them. How did you train them to do that?" And Scott said, "I didn't train them. I’m not trying to turn my kids into NAVY seals. They just do it."
And unsatisfied with the answer, the man pressed on, asking, "Well, why did they do it?" And Scott said, "Well, if I had to guess, I think one reason is that we can't take a trip like this every year. I mean actually we could but my wife and I, we give a bunch of our money away to things we believe in to help other people. What it means is we have to save up for a couple of years to make a trip like this, and so we can look forward to it. And because it's not every year or even every other year, it's special, and they appreciate it."
Scott and his family make well above the median income for where they live in the land of Microsoft and Costco, Starbucks and Amazon, Google and Boeing, they could go to Disneyland every year if they wanted to, but they don’t, or rather they can’t, because they give so much of their money away. And yet Scott and Christian aren’t misers or killjoys or stingy or heartless towards their kids. They’re at Disneyland for goodness sake, the happiest place on earth. A place where if you can make it once in your life, puts you among the world’s wealthiest.
And above all, here’s the kicker. We cannot overstate this part. Who’s got more joy? Who’s family is more grateful? It’s not even close. Giving is not God’s 5 step plan to making you miserable, rather it’s the path to true joy. Giving, saving and spending. As far as we are able, we’re wise to do all three, and hopefully within that story we find some of God’s wisdom and a healthy balance in midst of it all.
And I’ll finish with this:
Alright, we’ve got to wrap this up and to do that we have to talk about the greatest giver of all time, that is, God himself. You see, in a way, the greatest, fullest expression of God’s love is that he gave.
I’m sure you remember John 3:16, the most well known, most recited, most famous bible verse of all time. It goes something like this …
“For God so loved the world that he kept …
“For God so loved the world that he took …
“For God so loved the world that he accumulated, invested, diversified his stock portfolio and wisely saved for retirement …
Wait a second. That’s not it.
“For God so loved the world that he gave”
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …
Friends, when we give, we remind ourselves that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions.
Friends, when we give, experience the joy of having less and remind ourselves that true contentment is found in Christ alone.
Friends, when we give, we show the world that our faith and hope isn’t in our money, but in our good and gracious God.
Friends, when we give, we bring Jesus’s healing and change people lives in our neighborhoods, our schools, our hospitals, the town of Dillon and beyond.
Friends when we give, we as the people of God rehearse the story of God. We reflect the heart of God. A God who, true to his very nature, gave.
Jesus says, “Freely you have received; freely give.”