Sermon Manuscript . . .
Tests of Assurance–Materialism
Chris and Jean are off on a cruise to Alaska–their first cruise ever. It seems like people either love cruises or vow to never do it again. In life, there are many things we vow right away never to do again. For some of us, that is eating mushrooms. For others, it might be riding a motorcycle, or eating sushi. Those are things you experience and immediately know you don’t want to do it again.
Other things take time to realize what a bad idea it is. Clothing and style often take time before you look back and think, “What was I doing?” Behind me are some of the many examples of styles you look back on and scratch your head. Plaid pants and an afro . . . super-short shorts for men . . . a pink cumber bund with tux and tails. Now Joan–she actually pulls this look off. We all have pictures like these buried somewhere deep in our closets or computers. But you remember why you have these photos, right? At some point in time, somebody (including yourself) thought you looked good. The picture was taken because you looked good in the style of the time.
It’s like everyone was walking around with salad in their teeth, affirming how good everyone else looked with it. Sometimes we’re blind to fashion styles. The last 18 months, you see girls in their teens and 20s wearing high-waisted, loose-fitting pants. Five years ago, I would see packs of soccer moms walking together, dressed in matching velour warm-up clothes. Sometimes, the affirmation we hear, or the affection we have, blinds us. Sometimes, we are blind to the privilege we enjoy.
I remember a dear friend who flew to our wedding and performed our wedding ceremony, and his daughter was our flower girl. We were pretty broke, but we didn’t even think about helping pay for his flight. Now I look back and think, how did I miss that?!
I was talking to a mom with older kids who’s been in our church for awhile and she was remembering how hard it was when her kids were young and there wasn’t family around and very few older women who offered help. And she watches young moms now with family and church help, and they are blind to the blessings they have. We all go through life a bit ignorant of what’s really happening around us. We all have different privileges we enjoy that we don’t even realize.
And sometimes we’re surrounded by danger without realizing what’s happening. Back in 2008, I was in Uganda with Shannon Hurley, at the end of a couple weeks of ministry and we were touring a safari park. We had stayed overnight and seen lions, hippos, alligators, giraffes, and all kinds of amazing animals! On the way out of the park, our vehicle got caught in a rut, then skidded sideways, slamming into an embankment and flipped over. I remember seeing white and then nothing. After a moment, I realized I wasn’t dead, but was hanging upside down–I had seen the airbag, then shut my eyes.
We got out, assessed the damage, and warded off a large snake slithering toward us. It was late afternoon and so Shannon and a Ugandan named Paul started walking for the main gate, about 10 km away. Me and another guy waited with the bags by the flipped car. An hour passed and the sun began to drop low. My friend and I agreed that standing on the side of a road in the middle of an African Safari Park in the dark wasn’t a good idea. So we started walking the opposite direction toward a sign we’d seen that pointed toward a lodge. We thought it was about 5 to 7km there.
After about 20 minutes of walking, we heard a car coming. It was a couple of men from the lodge. They had heard a car crash, talked it over and decided to come investigate. As they picked us up, their first words were, “What are you doing out here? Get in!” We were 200 yards from what I thought were water buffalo, which we’d been staring at and talking about as we walked the road. They informed us that the water buffalo were, in fact, cape buffalo and kill more people than any other animal in Uganda.
Sometimes we are dangerously blind to what’s around us. Right now, prosperity is that danger. Your wealth, the prosperity of our country, the comfort and ease of the age we live in–they create a perfect storm of spiritual danger. But like me in Uganda, wealthy Christians can be blind to what’s happening.
We’ve been talking this summer about tests of assurance. How can you know if you’re saved? How can you know if you’re a true follower of Jesus? Today, Jesus is going to challenge you to consider your relationship to your wealth and possessions. And you’re going to find that this is not about having the right amount of money, or that there is a correct standard of living. Jesus doesn’t advocate for socialism or capitalism. But what Scripture says about money is antithetical to our culture. Jesus’ teaching on money is radically different than most money management books.
As He teaches on money, one question lays behind much of what He says. Who or what do you love most? That is the question you have to wrestle with. You might be in the midst of trying to choose a career path. You might be planning out your last 10 to 20 years on Earth. Whether you are thinking about budgeting, retirement, buying, selling–the fundamental question your money decisions reveal is who or what do you love most?
Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 19. We are in the final months of Jesus’ ministry. Pharisees are coming to Him, asking questions and testing Him. Parents are bringing their children to Him for a blessing. He is known, sought after and followed everywhere. And in the midst of this, a wealthy man approaches. This is a man who was a leader in the city, probably within the synagogue. He is a man of influence and prominence. And he’s still young, somewhere in his 20s or 30s.
Luke 18 calls him the rich young ruler, though Matthew doesn’t tell us that. The theme of the conversation is how to gain eternal life. That focus shows up six times in verses 16 to 30, over and over again. It is a passage that helps you know if you’re saved. And in it, Matthew exposes three ways we think wrongly about our prosperity. We’re going to work through verses 16 to 30 today, as we look at Jesus’ conversation with the rich man, and then His follow-up with His disciples.
1. Materialism is Blinding Verses 16 to 22
“And someone came to Him and said, ‘Teacher,
what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?’ 17And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking Me
about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter
into life, keep the commandments.’ 18Then he said to Him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not
commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall
not bear false witness; 19Honor
your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
20The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?’ 21Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’
22But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.”
This event is recorded in Luke and Mark also, and we learn from them that the young wealthy man was different from the Pharisees that came before him. Mark 10:17 says that he ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him. Though a respectable and well-known man, he came to Jesus in sincerity. He was hungry to get help and had no fear of being seen. He was determined.
He represents Jews everywhere, as well as many Americans, when he asks, “What must I do to obtain eternal life?” His words describe an action that must be done by him that would earn him God’s favor. This is what most people believe. If you do the right thing, God will love you. But Jesus does not give him the Romans Road. He doesn’t tell him about the wonderful plan God has for his life. Instead Jesus starts going after his heart. He wants the man to see his sinfulness.
So He points him towards the law–verse 17, if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments. Now the proper response is, verse 25, “Then who can be saved?” But the young man is perplexed. He feels his own lack of assurance, but he thinks he has done well. Verse 20, “All these things I have kept.” Mark 10:20 adds, “I have kept them from my youth until now.” He trusts Jesus to be a good teacher. He wants assurance of salvation. So he asks, “Which ones?” It’s an authentic question.
So Jesus responds with the moral aspects of the Ten Commandments. He gives laws five through nine and then the capper, the summary–Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is very intentional here. He is exposing the man’s true need. But the man doesn’t yet see it. He recognizes that simple law-keeping hasn’t led him to salvation. But he doesn’t see his own sinfulness at all.
The intent of the Law is to show us our need for Christ. Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” Mark 10:21 says that “looking at him, Jesus felt a love for Him.” He has compassion on the young man. And so He lasers in on the issue in the man’s heart–do you love yourself more than others?
Matthew 19:21, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ ” The man had been keeping the law, which means that he already gave some of his money to care for the poor. But now Jesus says, “Give it all.” This is the only person in all of Scripture whom God calls to sell all he owns. Jesus’ goal is to expose how he doesn’t love others as himself.
Materialism had blinded him to his sin. His affection for stuff had created a hard layer around his heart. From the beginning of the conversation, all his words have been about his efforts and what he’s done. He didn’t see his need to depend on God. This is our natural gravity. This is what we are all prone to. God desires men who depend wholly on Him. Gideon’s forces are taken down to 300 men to defeat a large army. A few fish are multiplied to feed thousands. Again and again, God calls us to depend upon Him.
So Jesus asks, “How badly do you want salvation?” Are you willing to walk away from what you hold most dear? Are you willing to admit that you love yourself more than anyone else? Will you admit that you have failed? The young man went away from that conversation in sorrow. Why? Because he owned a lot of stuff. Materialism is blinding. Wealth is dangerous.
Long ago, Peter Spiers and I were in Kazakhstan, teaching in a Bible Institute together. There were few people around who spoke English, but we had a good translator. One day during the break, I remember talking with our translator about America and they said that many friends had moved here over the years. And so I asked, “Do you ever want to come to America?”
“Oh, no! It is much harder to be a Christian in America. I see my friends distracted by all the luxuries and stop going to church and following Jesus. I think it is too hard to be a Christian there for me.” Friends, make sure you understand this–salvation is not just about what you know or what you believe, but about what holds your heart. Wealth and prosperity allow you to depend less on God. Materialism is a preoccupation with physical possessions that exceeds your concern for other things. That love of stuff is toxic to genuine faith.
One who loves material goods will find their love for spiritual things grow small. The more stuff you have, the harder it is to depend on God. Proverbs 30:8 to 9, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, 9that I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”
There is a danger we all face that our wealth dulls our faith. You might be a young person with a couple hundred in the bank, a retired widow living off Social Security, married in the peak years of income earning, or still at home, jobless and living off your parents. The principle remains true–materialism blinds us. Like the rich young ruler, it keeps us from depending on God. As I said earlier, the real question being asked is–who or what do you love most?
Do you love stuff? Do you buy stuff in order to be happy? Are you obsessive about your things because they are treasures in your heart? Most people think that fighting materialism means embracing poverty. And it might require that. But this is the only case in all of Scripture that God calls someone to sell all that he has. That is not the normal demand God places on the lives of His followers.
Rejecting materialism doesn’t mean you give away everything. If you say, “I’m giving up my car in order to depend on God,” really, you’re just asking someone else to embrace suffering by driving you everywhere. If you decide to buy a junker instead of a new car, you are trading the known cost of buying reliability for the unknown cost of regularly repairing the rust bucket. The opposite of materialism is not poverty, but selflessness. The problem in this story was, the man loved himself more than others. That is what Jesus is exposing. Materialism had blinded him to his self-love.
Contrast that with Zaccheus in Luke 19:5 to 9. When Zaccheus repents, he vows to repay four times everyone he has cheated. The opposite of materialism is selflessness. Following Christ demands sacrifice–that you love others more than yourself.
Can you think back to a time when you had to give something up in order to follow Jesus? You missed a promotion . . . you lost a sale . . . you quit a game . . . you got rid of your computer . . . you lost a friend . . . you stopped going somewhere. Salvation requires loving God more than anything else. If there have been no changes in your life, then you should lack assurance. Materialism is blinding, and . . .
2. Your prosperity is not the same as God’s Approval Verses 23 to 26
“And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ 25When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 26And looking at them Jesus said to them, ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ ” The Jews in Jesus’ day were not unlike most Christians today. They believed that wealth was a sign of God’s favor and approval. Those who had the most prosperity and possessions were most blessed by God.
There are prosperity preachers on TV and in our town who say that God wants to bless you, to enrich you and to make you to prosper. But much more common is the view that your material wealth is a sign of God’s favor. You move into a bigger, new house and say, “We are so blessed.” You get a big promotion and raise, and you thank God for it. I just want to ask, “How do you know it was from God?”
James 1:17, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Are you sure that it was intended for your good? Like the Jews, we are very prone to equating wealth with God’s favor. And likewise, we are prone to blaming poverty on sin.
I read a speech this week by Chad Bianco, the Riverside County Sheriff, that articulated his belief that 80% of those who are homeless are there by choice and lifestyle. There are many Christians who feel that way. And in the same way that we equate wealth with God’s approval, we equate poverty with sinfulness. This is a materialistic view, not a biblical one.
In Matthew 19:23 to 26, Jesus is correcting this common misunderstanding of wealth. He uses hyperbole to say that wealth isn’t a sign of salvation, but a barrier to it. “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” You read through Scripture and see that God does save the rich, but not many. There’s Job, Abraham, Joseph of Arimethea, Zaccheus, Lydia and some others. But the twelve disciples were all poor. The prophets were all poor to middle-class.
To the Corinthians Paul writes, 1 Corinthians 1:26 to 27, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong.” Prosperity is not a sign of God’s approval. Your big house may be a blessing from God. And it may be a snare laid by the evil one.
For sure, we can say that your wealth is permitted by God. Nothing happens which He does not ordain. He owns all things and He does lavish us with gifts. Ecclesiastes 5:19, “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.” But He also permits us to be tested and tried.
As the Screwtape Letters describes so well–we can be lured to complacency. As Romans 1 says, we are prone to loving the gifts more than the Giver. Have you blindly assumed that your comfort is from God? Is it possible that your comfort is a snare? Is it possible that your comfort is a test? Could it be that your wealth is actually a barrier to salvation?
That was the case for the rich young ruler. Materialism had blinded him. And I think you could say that his prosperity was permitted by God, but definitely not a sign of God’s favor. There are many in our valley who are confused about this. They don’t recognize how their wealth keeps them from God. Rather, they think that because life is easy, God must be pleased. Friends that is not how God works.
But that was even what the disciples thought. Their response shows this because they are bewildered. They are so surprised by what Jesus says that they don’t know what to think. They had assumed the rich were favored by God. They saw how the poor wanted to be rich. And they hear Jesus using hyperbole to say that it’s near impossible for a rich man to be saved.
Maybe you’ve heard someone talk about the really small gate that a camel couldn’t fit through. That’s not been found–and it wouldn’t match the disciples’ reaction. Their response–we are all in trouble. This is the response the rich young man should have had. They recognize the hopelessness of every man. Jesus responds that God can do what people can’t. He can enable people to leave their riches and follow Him.
The rich young man thought that salvation came from keeping the Law. This is what we all naturally lean towards. He saw his need and thought action was required on his part to be saved. That is the mindset of an independent heart. Jesus wants us to understand that the battle of prosperity is for dependence. Do you trust in what you have, or will you depend on God? Will you be the servant of your possessions, or will you serve the Lord?
Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” As I said earlier, the real question being asked is–who or what do you love most? Hebrews 13:5, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’ ”
To be a Christian means that God is the greatest treasure of your heart. Your hope in Christ and love for God surpasses every earthly delight. So when you have wealth and prosperity, as a Christian you understand that what you have is not for you–it has been entrusted to you to enjoy God through and to display Him to others.
First Timothy 4:3 to 4, “God has created [everything] to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.”
To the wealthy, Paul speaks even more directly–1 Timothy 6:17, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” Though materialism can blind you, God has entrusted you with wealth so that you can enjoy Him through his gifts and to display Him to others.
The common responses towards wealth are either greed or guilt. Some people want more and more–this is greed. Others feel embarrassed about what they have and they can’t enjoy it–this is guilt. Neither response is right. The proper response to prosperity is open-handedness. The proper response to wealth is dependent joy and generosity–that is the reason for which it was given to you.
Second Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” If wealth does not blind you to the Savior, then, 2 Corinthians 9:11, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.” And that is glorious!
If you are wealthy and find that you are not using your prosperity for the ends which Scripture describes, then you should be troubled. Could it be that materialism has blinded you? Could you be falsely believing that your prosperity is the mark of God’s approval of your life? Those questions lead us to the last portion of this section. Peter has those very worries on his heart. Look at verse 27 to 30.
“Then Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’ 28And Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.’ “
Peter doesn’t seem to be asking out of pride, but uncertainty. He just heard Jesus upend what he thought about wealth. He’s a little worried now. If it’s that hard to enter the kingdom, and we’re not free of such desires, what about us? To that question, Jesus says that . . .
3. Your Reward will exceed your Sacrifice Verses 27 to 30
The young ruler came asking, “What must I do to be saved?” He sought to be saved in his own strength. Maybe you have been living like him–trying to be good enough. You don’t lie, you don’t speed, you come to church. You are a genuinely nice person. You’re respected and appreciated. But you know deep down that something’s missing. You keep going, but you’re not 100% sure that it’s enough.
Jesus has declared that you are incapable of doing enough. “With people, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.” That possibility of total forgiveness comes through the One who said these words. The man who offered hope to the rich man offers that same hope to each of us today. His disciples believed, though they didn’t fully understand. Not many weeks after this, Jesus would allow Himself to be hung on a cross, condemned for sins He didn’t commit. He would endure there the full weight of God’s wrath for our sins. And once that was over, He died and then was raised to new life, defeating death, so that all who hope on Him for forgiveness of their sins will be saved.
The ruler sought to be saved in his own strength. And Jesus sought to show him his inability. Peter now admits his utter inability. And Jesus says, you will inherit eternal life. And that promise is true to all who believe today. In fact, He promises much more than avoiding death. Jesus promises that your rewards will exceed your sacrifices. Whatever you gave up on this earth will paid back in multiples. Jesus taught this multiple times.
Throughout history, a distinguishing mark of Christianity is sacrifice. We imitate our Savior when we suffer and when we sacrifice. To the disciples who followed Him, Jesus promises positions of authority. To those who lose friends, family and possessions because of following Christ, Jesus promises that a great reward is coming.
Three years ago, I did a series on Heaven and one of the things that people were surprised by was that heavenly reward is often presented as an earthly motivation. Some people think that being motivated by reward is ungodly. But 1 Corinthians 3, 1 Peter 1, Matthew 25 all show heavenly reward as a reason for earthly obedience.
One of my favorites is Hebrews 11:24 to 26, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Moses understood that future rewards will exceed present sacrifices.
I was waiting for my plane to load and read an article in the Guardian. It was about a couple who had retired at age 31 and written a book about it. They figured that if they had $1 million, they could retire. So over nine years, they lived very frugally. They didn’t eat out . . . they only used public transport . . . they lived somewhere very cheap . . . they worked hard and made many hard choices in order to retire while still young. Now this couple missed how we’re designed for work, not leisure. But they did unknowingly apply the principle that Jesus is teaching. They sacrificed in order to gain a reward.
Every believer will pay a cost to follow Jesus. Mark 8:34 to 36, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” In a wealthy culture, it is hard to deny yourself. We are surrounded by people who want to gain the whole world. Your bosses and your company are greedy for profit. They reward for performance.
There’s nothing wrong with selling or ambition or performing at a high level. The problem comes when your prosperity becomes your ambition. Your goal is not to buy a house in a certain neighborhood. Your goal is not to own a certain car. Your goal is not to have a certain amount in retirement. Your goal is to follow Jesus and live for His reward. He has called you to use your prosperity for good. First Timothy 5:8 says that you have a responsibility to provide for your family. Galatians 6:10 says that you are to have a special care and provision for other believers, whether missionaries or those in need. First Corinthians 16:2 says that you are to put aside money for the ministry of the Church. Luke 10:25ff says that we are to be watchful for people who need compassion and provision.
Listen, you live in America. We are the wealthiest country in the world. Our poorest people are better off than 70% of the world. Do you think that God was sovereign in saving you? Do you think that God was sovereign in bringing you to live in America? Do you think His ultimate ambition was your comfort and ease? Was that why He brought you here now? Your prosperity has purpose. You are to use what you have to enjoy God more and show Him off to others. Materialism is blinding. We can confuse prosperity with God’s approval. But you are called to live for future reward rather than ease right now.
And I worry–I mentioned this a month ago. In five years of counseling by Nigel, he has not seen one case for greed or materialism. If we’re not all immune, then some of us may be blinded. So understand, I am not trying to limit a major purchase. This is about your lifestyle. This is not at all about how much you make. This is about a heart attitude. If your fridge was empty and your home had an eviction notice, would you be as thankful to God as you are now? If your salary added 3 to 4 zeroes to the end, would you still feel the same need for God?
Our heart should be like Paul’s in Philippians 3:7, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” How much does your prosperity mean to you? How sad will you be when it all disappears? Who or what do you love most? Jim Eliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I pray that we would be a church that continues to be marked by generosity, by faith and by kindness.