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Topical - More than ice cream - the seven deadly sins - Part Two
Part Two of STEVE CREE’S look at how the Bible tackles the seven deadly sins
Source: Perspective Vol10 No1 ©Perspective 2002
This is part two of this series
Talk 5—Dying to Gluttony, Rising to Self-Control (Ecc 3, Amos 6, Phil 3)
5.1 Am I a glutton?
Many of you will have heard of the called ‘Dieting Under Stress’ diet. It goes something like this:
Breakfast: half a grapefruit, 1 slice dry whole wheat toast, 8 oz skim milk
Lunch: 4 oz lean boiled chicken, 1 cup steamed spinach, 1 cup herb tea, 1 Tim Tam
Snack: rest of Tim Tams in packet, 2 litres Rocky Road ice cream, 1 jar hot fudge sauce, nuts, cherries, whipped cream
Dinner: 2 loaves garlic bread with cheese, large pizza, jug of coke, 3 Mars Bars
With the late evening news: an entire frozen cheesecake eaten directly from the freezer
I suppose most of us can relate to gluttony in some way. Hunger cravings, desires, longings, appetite—wanting to feed your face. Maybe not quite to the excess of that little diet but in some way or another, we all know what it means to crave something. But are you a glutton? Do you have a problem with gluttony? My guess is most of you would think not. Sure, I like the odd chocolate fix but I’m not a glutton. Or even if you’re not really sure what a glutton is, you might still be reasonably confident it’s not you. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you were probably surprised to see it even on the list. ‘Gluttony a deadly sin? In the top seven??’ I’ll go a step further and say, that when I asked, ‘which of these seven sins do you think you struggle with most?” almost no-one put gluttony.
Gluttony. It’s a word that conjures up certain images isn’t it? We have a pretty stereotyped idea of what a glutton looks like, of how to spot the person with a problem with gluttony. So, you know you’re a glutton when: you go to the zoo and you realise that kids are throwing you peanuts; you go to the beach and six people ask you to move because you’re blocking the sun and a kid asks to borrow the life preserver round your waist but you’re not wearing one; or you fall asleep on the beach and wake up to realise people are splashing water on you, dragging you to the water’s edge. Then there’s when an invitation to an exercise class says “wear loose clothing” and you think to yourself: “well if I had any loose clothing…”.
5.2 The Problem
Is that all gluttony is? Eating too much? Being overweight? If it is – well most of you could breathe easy. If gluttony’s something you can just measure with the scales, then many could say, ‘gluttony’s not a problem for me’. But we’re going to see that, even if you don’t have a problem with eating, you may still have a problem with gluttony. In fact, the Bible says every person here today is a glutton. When you see what the Bible says this sin of gluttony’s all about, you might realise that you need to move it up your list of seven even to the top, alongside the other four we’ve looked at so far!
You see, you can look at gluttony just in the narrow sense – and then it’d just be about feeding your face. And the Bible sure has plenty of warnings about that (Prov 23:20). That’s the narrower sense of what gluttony is: the craving of an empty stomach. But the Bible’s also got a whole lot to say about a broader sense of what gluttony is. Broader than just consuming too much food and drink. And one place you see this in detail is the Book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes is all about the bigger definition of gluttony: not just empty stomachs – but empty souls. Ecclesiastes 3:10 talks about God setting eternity in our hearts, that God has made us with a sense of longing, a yearning for fulfilment, a hunger for satisfaction, a kind of a spiritual vacuum: empty souls. The theologian Augustine called it a ‘God shaped hole’. And the point of course is, God’s the one who put it there, so only God can fill it. It’s the gospel: God made us, made us for relationship with him, so we have an in-built wiring to need God, we’ll never be satisfied outside of him. But the problem is that we rebelled against God. We’ve rejected God’s rightful place in our lives. Since Adam and Eve, we’ve taken our God-shaped whole and tried to fill it with all the wrong things. Instead of craving relationship with God, we’ve craved independence from him – and tried to satisfy our spiritual hunger with our own desires. Instead of being hungry for God’s Word and God’s ways, we’ve become hungry for just about anything else. We’ve become, you see, gluttons. Hungry people, but hungry for all the wrong things. Trying to fill the place that only God should occupy, but filling our souls instead – with rubbish.
Here’s the real problem of gluttony. It’s not just that we crave junk food for the stomach. It’s that we crave junk food for the soul. Solomon describes how he filled his soul with junk food (Eccl 2:10). I went for it, I let my hunger go wild, I stuffed myself but I was chasing the wrong stuff, chasing thin air. I was trying to fill my empty soul with junk food. It’s a story repeated through the centuries. Stories like Boris Becker, who, when he was at the very top of the tennis world was also on the brink of suicide. He said, ‘I’d won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player, I was rich, I had all the material possessions I needed. But it’s the old song of movie and pop stars who commit suicide: they have everything, and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace I was a puppet on a string’. That’s the real problem of gluttony. Not just empty stomachs, but empty souls. Taking the craving that should be for God and his Word, and replacing it with cravings for other things: for physical things, worldly things, fleshly things.
So, what are you really hungry for? Your craving might be food or drink, or your craving might be for other things. Your craving might be for clothing, cars, sex, jewellery, holidays, your Sony Playstation, work, sport, popularity, a relationship, or the approval of others. What is it you’re hungry for? What are you craving? Fact is, if it’s not first and foremost the God who made you, and to feed on his Word more than anything else, then you’re a glutton. Gluttony’s not just measured with scales. It can be measured in all sorts of other ways—with your credit card, what you love to spend money on most; the clock, what you love to spend your time doing most and, above all, with your heart, what you’re ’really longing for. And when you apply those measures, what you find is sin. Our selfishness, our self-centredness, our stubbornness. Rather than returning completely to God to be filled by him and ruled by him we continue in many ways to rebel against him. This is what the Bible calls the sinful heart.
Amos 6 shows a classic case of gluttony which comes at a critical stage of the Old Testament story. Here Israel’s sin has grown so great that God has decided to send them into exile. Just like he removed Adam and Eve from the garden, he’s going to remove Israel from the promised land. And for what sin? Amos 6:4 gives the answer …
You lie on beds inlaid with ivory, and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs, and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David, and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful, and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.
Here’s the sin that causes God to drive them into exile: their feasting and lounging, their comfort and complacency, their preoccupation with fleshly desires. But it’s not just what they are chasing (their furnishings, the food and wine, the music the lotions), it’s what they’re not chasing – “but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph” (v 6). “You care for your comfort but not my plans or purposes. You’re letting all those things take my place,” says God. Your driving passion isn’t to see God honoured, but to serve yourself and feed your desires. You’re not hungry for God’s Word and it’s priorities, you don’t crave God being centre stage in your life. It’s not just what you are hungry for, but what you’re not. And so God sends them into exile because he hates their hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy is what lies beneath gluttony. You claim to be filling your life with God when you’re really filling it with other things. They claimed to worship God but they really worshipped themselves. They were very religious people, and they conducted their ceremonies, presented their offerings but God says they are fakes because they “honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me”. Are we claiming to be God’s people but not living like it? Hypocrites? Are we focussed on his honour, or our comfort? I was sent a story recently, on just this question, a story that exposes our hypocrisy. The story imagines Satan addressing his demons, announcing his plan for producing hypocritical Christians. ‘We can’t stop them claiming to be Christians, we can’t stop them thinking they’re living as Christians, but we can stop them really living as Christians should. Here’s how. We keep them busy in the nonessentials of life. Invent all sorts of schemes to occupy their minds. Get them busy in trivia. Tempt them to spend, spend, spend and borrow, borrow, borrow. Get them working six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day, so they can afford their empty lifestyles. Over-stimulate their minds so they don’t read the Bible: TV, VCR, CD, DVD, and PC – play them constantly. Jam their minds with junk so they don’t think of God. Pound their minds with worldly input 24 hours a day. Invade their driving moments with billboards. Flood their letterboxes with junk mail and sweepstakes and promotions offering free products and false hopes. Give them Santa Claus to destroy the real meaning of Christmas, Easter bunny so they won’t talk about Jesus’ resurrection. Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Have them return from their “leisure” exhausted. Send them to amusement parks, sporting events, concerts, movies. Keep them consuming. Keep them busy, busy, busy. And when they meet together, at church, and through the week, just busy them more – but with small talk and gossip, so they’re still just consuming each other. Crowd their lives, even with things not bad in themselves, but so those things become their passion, so they just drift away from a focus on God. This plan will work!’. Has it worked in your life?
5.3 The Solution
What’s the key for us to turn from hypocrisy? What’s the key to get us living according to God’s plan not Satan’s plan, to die to our gluttony and rise to self-control, to die to fleshly desires and live to spiritual, godly priorities? Philippians 3:18 provides the key …
many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
The cross of Christ is the key. It changes everything—your priorities, what you’re hungry for—because in the cross of Christ we see God’s judgement on our gluttony. Jesus died for our sins— our gluttony, our wrong priorities and our fleshly desires, how we’ve filled our God shaped hole with earthly shaped things— to bring us back to God, to things that matter, to bring us to new lives with God back at the centre, to lives filled with God and his priorities. When we came to the cross, trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, let’s be clear what we were asking forgiveness for then we’ll be clear what God wants us to turn away from. We said, “Please crucify the things I’ve filled my soul with so that I might be filled with you and your priorities. Make me different to the way I once lived. Make me different to the world around me.” Paul says that to not live that way is to live like enemies of the cross of Christ. If your mind is on earthly things you’re not following Christ.
Is gluttony a problem for you? Taking comfort in the wrong things. Too tired to read the Bible with the kids at bedtime. Too distracted to pray with my wife. I feel hungry, empty. It’s not really for food but I make the nachos. It’s not really for entertainment but I flick on the telly. And what’s the problem? It’s not just that I’m filling my stomach and mind with junk. It’s a spiritual health problem filling my soul with junk. In my soul, as I take my spiritual problem to the fridge, as I worship at the shrine of the TV, I’m living as an enemy of the cross. Not because those things are wrong in themselves but because I’m taking my problems to them instead of to God. And why is that living as an enemy of the cross of Christ? Because I’ve forgotten that Christ died for my worldliness. Here I am, this world’s causing my problems yet I’m turning to the things of this world for the solution. I’ve forgotten the hope that Christ has won for me. The real solution to the worries of today is what God’s got in store for me tomorrow – in heaven. That when I feel dissatisfied with this life, I should respond by longing for heaven all the more and pursue heavenly priorities all the more not withdrawing from God and turning elsewhere.
5.4 Rising to Self-Control
It was a great irony at New Years Eve wasn’t it? The word eternity written in fireworks – so fleeting. God has set eternity in our hearts, but we turn to something that goes up in smoke in a few minutes. Turn to the one who has died and risen to give us eternal life – the real answer to our empty souls. This is rising to self-control. Better having my self controlled by Christ (v 20) because he’s got the power to bring everything under his control. I need to listen to Jesus when he says “do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn 6). I need to listen to Jesus who died for me when he says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, And he who believes in me will never be thirsty”. I need to die to my gluttony and rise to self-control, filling my soul with my wonderful Saviour and Lord. What about you?
h3. Talk 6—Dying to Laziness, Rising to Zeal (2 Thess 3, 1 Cor 15)
6.1 Friday On My Mind
‘Monday morning feels so bad, everybody seems to nag me. Coming Tuesday I feel better, even my old man looks good. Wednesday just don’t go, Thursday goes too slow, I’ve got Friday on my mind. Going to have fun in the city, and be with my girl she’s so pretty. She looks fine, she is out of sight, to me. Tonight I spend my bread. Tonight I lose my head. Tonight I’ve got to get tonight. Monday I have Friday on my mind’.
That is the #1 Australian song of all time! “Friday on my Mind” by the Easybeats was voted Australia’s top all-time song. Yep, it fended off “Pub With No Beer” and “Shudupaya Face” as having the most special place in Aussie hearts, capturing something about who we are and how we think. Monday: I’ve got Friday on my mind. From the day I start working: I’m thinking about the day I stop working.
The Bible warns of the deadliness of laziness (Prov 21:25, 1 Tim 5:13). As one bloke put it: “the lazy brain is the devil’s workshop”. Our lazy days are Satan’s busy days. He loves a sitting target – a sitting duck. Laziness is a deadly sin.
When it comes to laziness Australians are possibly the world leader. We’re known as the land of the long weekend, of strikes, sickies and false compo claims. Where even “early retirement” has become an idol because anything is better than working, even nothing. Our National Anthem celebrates this attitude. It just seems to say, “Boy we’ve got a really nice place here”. It’s much less certain what this nice place is for. When they did a survey in the UK, why the Australian show Home and Away was so popular, it wasn’t cause of the acting or the plot. The reason millions of British people are glued to Home and Away is because the sun’s always shining, the beach is always inviting, and no-one ever seems to be working.
6.2 Laziness—A Blind Spot
Do you struggle with laziness? I suppose if you are lazy you don’t struggle with it do you?! Because the whole point of laziness is that it’s what you’re not doing. It’s what’s called a sin of omission. It’s what you’re not doing rather than what you are doing. So, if gluttony is chasing all the wrong things in life, laziness is more about failing to chase the right things. Where pride, anger, envy, lust, impurity and gluttony are seen in what you do laziness is seen in what you don’t do.
This is why laziness is such an easy sin to fall into. All you have to do to do it, is … do nothing. It’s always harder to be aware of something you’re not doing, than the things you are doing. When we come to confess our sins, we’re more likely to confess the bad things we’ve done than all the good things we’ve left undone. Laziness is like falling asleep at the wheel. You don’t even know you’ve done it but it’s just as deadly. It’s not what you did: speeding, overtaking, whatever. It’s what you didn’t do – you didn’t stay awake. And if there’s one thing Jesus kept telling his disciples, and the Bible keeps telling us: it’s stay awake, be alert.
6.3 Busy Bodies not Busybodies
2 Thessalonians 3 shows a bunch of Christians who are in huge danger of falling asleep at the wheel. Paul’s been reminding the Thessalonians about the great hope they have as Christians, about the need to live with their focus on heaven ahead, looking forward to a time when everything will be put right. But here’s the problem: focussing on heaven ahead doesn’t mean you just sit around waiting for it. It means you get busy with heavenly priorities. It means you realise all the things God wants you doing as you wait. It seems some of the Thessalonian Christians have decided that they can just sit back, and take it easy (v 11). There’s a little song they do on Play School: ‘It’s nice to get up in the morning, it’s nice to get up in the morning, it’s nice to get up in the morning, but it’s nicer to stay in bed”. That’s the theme song for some of the Thessalonians. As Christians we’re called to share with each other and serve one another, and to care for one another when we’re in need. We saw this in dying to envy and rising to kindness—we should be always be wanting the best for each other and that’s going to mean showing love in practical ways. But there are always some people who say, “Terrific, I can just sit back and take it easy, I don’t have to work, I’ll just drop round on my mates from church every dinner time”. NB: Paul’s not talking here about people who can’t get work, he’s talking about people who won’t work. And Paul commands the Thessalonians to keep away from those people (v 6).
Paul set an example of hard work: and they ought to follow it. He says “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” (v 10). And he tells them to stop being idle (v 11). They’re not busy, they’re busybodies, using their time to poke into other people’s business. Lazy people become real vultures, not just feeding on their brothers food but feeding on their brothers lives – through deadly gossip. In the end, it’s a reflection of Paul’s gospel priorities, because being a Christian isn’t about taking, it’s always about giving – like Jesus gave to us. Being a Christian isn’t about being served, it’s about serving, because of what Jesus did for us. Which is why Paul goes on to say that we should ‘never tire of doing what is right’ (v 13). He’s saying: get busy with what is right. I’m sure most of us would think we’re busy people. That we’re earning our keep, that we’re not the bludgers Paul’s talking about here. The call here isn’t just to be busy, is it? It’s to be busy doing what is right. You might be the busiest person in the world but be an absolute bludger in God’s Kingdom.
Jesus told a parable about someone like that. A master gives his servant a large sum of money to look after but the servant does nothing with it – he buries it in the ground. And so, he’s rebuked: ‘you wicked lazy servant’. And Jesus’ question is: what sort of servant are you? Faithful? What are you doing with what God’s given you? God’s Word is calling us to be busy people with a purpose. Doing what’s right. This issue is just as relevant today as 2000 years back when the ink was still wet on this letter. Sadly, there are still freeloading Christians today. Maybe you’re one of them. There are always things to be done for God’s kingdom but maybe you take advantage of the generosity of others – who bring morning tea/supper and you never do, and who mow the lawns and you never do, who set up the church every week but you never do, who make meals for others but you never do, who are busy out there telling the gospel and inviting friends to church but you never do.
Maybe you’re not doing what you could be doing for God and you need to repent of that. Laziness is all about the distance between what you are doing and what you should be doing, between who you are and who God’s calling you to be. For Paul the Christian life is a serious business. There’s definitely no room for busybodies. There’s only room for bodies that are busy. Are you busy with the things that count?
6.4 Godliness: Not Half-Baked
It seems to me that we often have a very negative view of what it means to be godly. As if godliness just means not doing certain things. We’re aware of the wrong things we shouldn’t do, much more than the right things we should do. It’s a half-baked view of godliness. God’s people should delight in doing right. We might be tempted to think we’re being godly because we’re not doing this or not doing that, “I don’t drink too much, I’m faithful to my wife, I don’t lie or steal – I must be godly!”. But what about all the godly things you’re not doing? If you’ve just got a negative view of godliness, you’ll actually end up in all sorts of sin. If you’re just hanging around not doing this and not doing that, thinking Christianity is just hanging around until Jesus comes back, you end up idle – you end up a gossip. I was just reading in a book during the week how dangerous this half-baked view of godliness can be. The author reckons the most destructive Christians are those with just this negative view of godliness. They’re so focussed on all the things you don’t do, they end up idle – too much time on their hands. They become busybodies – or whingeing on the sidelines, busy pointing out what everyone else is doing wrong, instead of getting busy doing what’s right. They don’t lie or steal or swear or murder, but they don’t encourage either, or get involved, or share the gospel much, or share in the Word much.
That’s why this series is all about dying and rising with Christ. Not just dying to sin but rising to godliness. Dying to sin is essential—we’ve got to identify the sinful parts of our lives and cut them out— but if that’s all we think God wants from us, we’ve got a half-baked view of godliness. Real godliness is turning from sin to God, turning from old priorities to new priorities, turning from sinful ways to godly ways. Not just dying but dying and rising with Christ. Just like the death of Jesus shows us all the things Jesus died for, all the sins we’re to turn from, the resurrection of Jesus reminds us of all the things we should be turning to.
Paul spells it out plainly in 1 Corinthians 15:
Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
Give yourself fully to the work of the Lord. That’s why Paul said earlier in this letter to the Corinthians, “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel!” He’s not just sitting around waiting for heaven, he’s trying to drag a few others in as well. He’s not just got a negative view of godliness, he’s thinking of all the new things he should be doing. Is that you and me? Driven out in service of our Lord Jesus – turning from laziness to zeal, to enthusiasm, to a single-minded devotion and passion to honour Jesus? It’s easy for us to go AWOL in the harvest field out there – to forget that salvation is a helmet not a night cap. God wants your service to him the way you like your tea: hot, fired with passion for your risen Lord.
6.5 Dying to Laziness, Rising to Zeal
We’re told in the gospels that when Jesus was crucified, lots of people sat down to watch. They made a picnic at the murder of the Lord of all. I guarantee that anyone who was at that picnic that day, if they met the risen Jesus three days later the picnic would be over. Like Thomas when he realised Jesus had risen, not sitting down but falling down, “My Lord and My God!”. The picnic was over! But is it for you and me?
One of the worlds most famous pieces of art would have to be the “Last Supper” by Leonardo De Vinci. Most people have at least seen photos of it or tacky reproductions of it on posters or stain glass windows. It was painted as a fresco on the wall of a monastery’s dining room. Unfortunately, Leonardo hasn’t been too well served by history. The wall began to crumble as soon as he’d finished painting it, because the monks had only built it with loose dirt. And some early friars even cut a door through the wall right where Christ’s feet were, and then they converted the room to use as a stable. Can you imagine that? One the greatest pictures in history and its left to a bunch of donkeys to stare at. To add insult to injury, when they finally decided to restore the painting up a little, some of the restoration was so sloppy it was laughable. One artist in particular was so casual about the task he actually gave James six fingers on one hand! The whole art world now mourns that such a treasure could be so neglected, so overlooked, so undervalued and treated so poorly. If it’s a tragedy to treat a picture of Jesus like that, how much worse is it to treat the person of Jesus like that? Laziness, sloppiness with our Lord, is sin. So, let us die to sin and rise to new lives lived for him. Let us die to laziness and rise to zeal and passion for our Lord.
h3. Talk 7—Dying to Greed, Rising to Generosity (Luke 9:25, 12:13-31, 16:13-15, 18:18-30)
7.1 Reading the Price-tags
You’re in Pacific Fair, shopping at its greatest level, you walk through the stores browsing at stuff. Finally something really catches your eye. You’re excited about it, you hold it, you want it. Only one final hurdle remains—the price. So you reach down for that postage stamp size tag dangling from the treasure in your hands. This is it, the price tag moment. Numbers come into focus—is it that much? 50% more than you guessed, 100% more than you can afford, and 200% more than you need to spend on this kind of thing. But still you stand there making your decision: to buy or not to buy. And you ask the question: “Is it worth it?” We face price tag moments all the time in everyday life, we’re constantly doing cost-benefit analysis, always asking the question: “is it worth it?”. Because we live in a consumer world and we’re being constantly bombarded: buy this, buy that. And we weigh up the values, and we make our choices. One price tag moment after another.
7.2 Warnings from Jesus
Into this consumer world Jesus asks his own price tag question: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?’ (Lk 9:25) A recent survey asked people what they’d do for $10 million dollars—25% said that they’d abandon their families, 23% said they’d be a prostitute for one week, 16% said they’d leave their spouse, 3% said they’d put their kids up for adoption. They eyed up the money, they had their price tag moment, they did their maths, and said “Yep, that would be worth it”. But into their greedy world comes the voice of Jesus, challenging their upside down priorities, calling them to take a closer look at the price tags and work out what’s really valuable. Jesus says to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk 12:15).
Greed affects us all in one way or another. Greed is a huge blind spot for people like you and I because it’s the most socially accepted sin in our culture. A movie a few years back featured the famous line “Greed is good”. And that’s the motto of our society. Australian entrepreneur Rene Rivkin put it this way: “he who dies with the most toys wins”. And that’s exactly how most people are living their lives. Here comes the voice of Jesus again, to the man who’s building his bigger barns, to the person who reckons life’s about gathering toys, “You fool, this very night your soul will be required of you” (Lk 12:20). You’ve read the price tags all wrong. He who dies with the most toys, still dies and, as you stand before God’s throne of judgement, he puts a zero value on the material things you’ve chased. You should’ve looked closer at the price tags. And worked out what’s really valuable.
Greed affects everyone, definitely not just the rich. Just have a close look at the lottery line down at the newsagent. People convinced that more money would solve every problem and meet every longing in their life. Greed motivates us all—to earn more than we need, to own more than we can use yet still ache for more. Because of greed: we muck up the price tag moments. Not just the little decisions but the biggest one of all. Because we exchange the Creator for created things and we swap eternity for things that don’t last. And Jesus’ warnings against greed couldn’t be stronger. “What profit is it?” he asks. “Watch out” he calls. “You fool” he rebukes. And then he says this: “no-one can serve both God and money”. Money is the biggest rival god there is: God or money –you can’t sit on the fence (Lk 16:13) You can’t serve both God and money: we hear it from Jesus, and now we meet it in person.
7.3 Getting the Price-tags Wrong
It’s the man we meet in Luke 18:18. This bloke comes to Jesus with a question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. This guy’s a first century yuppie—drives a Porsche, carries a mobile, wears Italian suits. And what does the guy with everything want? He’s got the fortune, he’s got the status, but eternal life – that would definitely top things off. Does he really know what he’s asking? And that Jesus is going to ask him some questions of his own? You’ve got to notice as you read through this story, the way Jesus eggs this guy on, lays landmines, sets traps. Jesus challenges where his focus is (v 17). Why are you asking me? Hasn’t God already spoken? Hasn’t he already told you what he wants you to do? You want eternal life – well, where do you stand with God? Is the God who made you your God? Is he first in your heart?
Now remember, Jesus is stringing this guy along, testing him so he reels off a list from the ten commandments. The guy breathes a sigh of relief. “You beauty”, he says, “I’ve never killed anyone, I’ve never committed adultery, can’t remember stealing anything, haven’t told a lie since I was a kid, I’m in!!” (v 21) But Jesus hasn’t finished with him, because he knows the real answer hasn’t come out yet – is God really first in this blokes heart? So now Jesus shows the answer to that question by putting his finger on the real issue for this guy – exposing the thing that’s really first in his heart (v 22). The test of whether someone can have two masters – a walking, breathing, living test of what Jesus taught. Jesus said it point blank: a choice in front of each of us. It’s interesting, the first of the 10 commandments, the key to the rest—“you shall have no other gods before me” – hasn’t been mentioned yet. But it’s been on the agenda from the moment Jesus first spoke.
I don’t know what it is about money: but it’s powerful, makes you do all sorts of things and Jesus puts his finger on it as the single most dominating thing that takes you away from God. I know plenty of people who want to test out what he says for themselves. “Sure, Jesus says ‘you can’t serve both God and money’, but I’ll just give it a try for a while to make sure, just in case he’s made a mistake: or didn’t really mean it”. And at that point they’re a bit like the guy in the Land Rover ads they ran on TV a while back: he gets in for a test drive and he’s off. “He’ll be back when he gets to the gate” – and he keeps going. “He’ll be back when he gets to the bitumen” – and he keeps going. And you can stand there and say “he’ll be back soon” all you like. “He’ll be back when the new job settles down, back as soon as he’s got the business problems sorted out, he’ll be back when the renovations are finished, he’ll come back to God when he’s got a bit more spare time. He’s busy at work just now but it won’t stay like this. The over-time’s there and you’ve got to take it, haven’t you? He’ll be back soon”. Serving the money god is addictive and before you know it he’s gone for good.
Jesus says you can’t serve two masters and now he’s face to face with a guy who thinks he can. He’s never stolen but he doesn’t want to give either. He says he’s serving God but he’s also serving money. And, Jesus says, when push comes to shove both won’t last. So what’ll it be? Who does he really serve? God or money? Jesus puts it to him in black and white terms, you still lack one thing “sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me”. It’s the ultimate test, isn’t it? Where’s his loyalty? Is he going to store up his treasures on earth, or is he going to go for the treasures in heaven? You don’t have to wait long to find out. “when the young man heard this he went away sad because he had great wealth” (v 22). He’s reading the price tags all wrong isn’t he? He’s so blinded by what he’s got that he can’t see what he’s turning down.
Clinging to his toys he misses out on eternal life. It’s how they catch monkeys—just put shiny foil in a jar, the monkey puts in his hand and grabs the foil but now he can’t pull his fist out of the jar opening. He’ll sit there clutching the foil and won’t let go. The hunter can just walk on up and grab him because nothing will make him let go, not even the cost of his life. Same with this bloke here—he’s blind to the real price tags. When it comes to the choice between Jesus or the money, he’ll take the money every time. When it comes to the choice between riches in heaven and riches on earth, he’ll take the now every time. Talk about failing the price tag moment and valuing temporary things way too much and eternal life way too little. No wonder Jesus says such strong things about money. It blinds you to the real value of things. Like a problem gambler – you just don’t see the consequences. No wonder Jesus says that rich people have got buckleys of turning to God (v 24). So, who then can be saved? Well, what’s really needed is a miracle, what’s needed is for God to step in and make it possible (v 27).
7.4 What makes the difference?
And what does that bring you to? The cross of course! What’s the miracle that can change a sinful greedy heart? Jesus death! So, what does Jesus talk about next? He tells his disciples about his death (v 31). What is impossible with men is possible with God. And here’s God’s answer to our sinful hearts, here’s the miracle that can thread the needle with a camel, here’s God stepping in to do what we could never do. Because none of us have kept the commandments, none of us have really served God first in our hearts. What’s the miracle that can change the money-minded-man to read the price tags the right way, to see that the god of money is luring him to death and that death is exactly what his idolatry deserves? The death of Jesus, that’s where you see what your greed deserves. That’s where you see what God thinks of your idolatry. That’s where you see what you deserve—death—and the offer of what you don’t deserve—forgiveness.
The chance to let go of the all the things that don’t matter to receive the one thing that does matter. The death of Jesus is where you really see the price tags. The price he paid for your greed, for all your sins—death—and the price you have to pay to receive forgiveness—nothing. The death of Jesus is the ultimate price tag moment and, if you read the price tag moment properly, if you read the cross of Jesus properly, you’ll grab it with both hands. You’ll let go of all the things you thought were precious and consider them nothing compared with eternal life. You’ll let go of them with hands as open as the hands nailed to the cross because you worshipped them. You won’t be sad about giving up the money god like this rich yuppie was because, when you read the price tags right, and you see what Jesus is offering you, sadness will be replaced with gladness. But could that really happen? Where someone could be glad to give up their money, see what Jesus is offering and grab it with both hands, so they drop all the things their hands were filled with? Can God really work that miracle? Can someone really turn from greed to generosity? Can the camel really go through the eye of the needle?
7.5 Getting the Price-Tags Right
Can someone really turn from greed to generosity? Almost straight after Jesus’ encounter with the rich, young yuppie he’s passing through Jericho and meets a guy called Zacchaeus (Lk 19:1-10). We’re told that Zacchaeus is wealthy just like the rich ruler. But we’re also told something else, something that makes him a bit different to the other rich bloke … Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector. Definitely no need to even bother asking Zacchaeus if he’s kept the commandments. He’s a tax collector and that means one thing—he’s a sinner. And doesn’t everyone know it (v 7) because everyone’s muttering, “Jesus has gone to be the guest of a sinner”. But in the end what makes Zacchaeus really different to the rich young ruler, as far as Jesus is concerned, is not that he is a sinner but that he knows he’s a sinner. Zacchaeus knows, as well as anyone, that he’s a sinner. Zacchaeus knows more than anyone that he needs forgiveness. He sees it the way the other rich bloke couldn’t. Jesus doesn’t need to put the challenge out to him because Zacchaeus really sees his need for Jesus. Here’s the rich man who doesn’t walk away from Jesus in sadness but welcomes him into his house with gladness. Here’s the one who sees his need for Jesus as so massive that nothing else matters. Here’s the one who reads the price tags the right way.
He can run a spiritual audit because when you see your need for salvation and you see that Jesus is offering it freely to you, then you see that you’re lost, but Jesus has come to seek and save you. Anything else is just junk, dirt, chicken feed, nothing. He’s not going to cling to what he’s got – it’s nothing. He’s not going to cling to who he is – he’s lost. Because he knows he’s a sinner he knows he needs Jesus. He sees what Jesus is offering and grabs it with both hands, and he drops all the things his hands were filled with, he gladly gives up his money, he gladly gives away half he has to the poor, no doubt it’d probably be the whole lot except he’s got to repay all the people he’s cheated as well.
So did you see it? Did you see what just happened? The camel just went through the eye of the needle. Salvation says Jesus has come to this household (v 10). The money miracle just happened. Someone just turned from worshipping money to worshipping God, from worshipping false gods to worshipping the true God. A rich man just turned from death to life. The greedy man just became a generous man. You see, money as master just became money as servant. What happens when you accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, when you realise the extreme, massive value of forgiveness, when you have your own price tag moment at the foot of the cross? You turn from death to life, from greed to generosity, from money as your master to money as your servant. It’s the forgiveness miracle—wanting to be like Jesus, and wanting to thank him for paying the price for your sin.
7.6 Dying to Greed, Rising to Generosity
If you claim Jesus as your Lord then he’s your only master and the only place for money in your life is as a servant. It’s a useful servant: Zacchaeus doesn’t just throw it out the window he uses it for those without – he uses it to put wrongs right. It’s a useful servant for the Lord’s work but it’s only a servant. The Bible says there’s a huge difference between using your money and serving your money. Between using money and money using you. It’s a trap all of us can fall for, but Jesus says you can’t serve two masters. It’s a deadly trap. So often you can see it happening, people so blinded by materialism, they lose the plot. All they can think is the next scheme to make a buck. And when push comes to shove, just like the rich ruler, they’re ruled by riches, whether they’ve got them yet or not. Their decisions, their priorities, their time: it’s actually under the control of something other than God. Money talks: and it’s the one telling them what to do.
How often do we see Christians who are prepared to take Jesus seriously, and turn from greed to generosity? Treat Jesus so seriously they’ll let go of the purse strings, and start using what they’ve got for the Kingdom of God, instead of themselves? How often do you? How often do I? ‘Of course I’m giving enough’ – or am I? Do I just do what’s comfortable and easy and not too threatening and not really sacrificial. Look at the price tags, what did Jesus give you. Look at his sacrifice for you, what exactly would you hold back from him? Look at the price tags, people without Jesus are going to hell – how much are you giving to send workers into the harvest?
This isn’t about rules. This is about your heart. 10% was the guideline for giving in the Old Testament but the New Testament calls us to go way beyond the law. Look at the cross, did Jesus give us just 10%? So if we’re dying and rising with Christ, if we’re becoming like Jesus, how generous are we prepared to be?
Steve Cree is the Pastor of the Southern Cross Presbyterian Church, Lismore.
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