Sunday, August 26, 2007

Desiring God- Money Part 2

Desiring God by John Piper
The Images of Wealth

I recall a full-page ad for a popular office chair which showed a man in a plush office. The ad's headline read, "His suits are custom tailored. His watch is solid gold. His office chair is________________. " Below the man's picture was this quote:

I've worked hard and had my share of luck: my business is a success. I wanted my office to reflect this and I think it does. For my chair I chose a________________. It fits the image I wanted . . . If you can't say this about your office chair, isn't it about time you sat in a _________________? After all, haven't you been without one long enough?

The philosophy of wealth in those lines goes like this: If you've earned them, you would be foolish to deny yourself the images of wealth. If 1 Timothy 6:9 is true, and the desire to be rich brings us into Satan's trap and the destruction of hell, then this advertisement, which exploits and promotes that desire, is just as destructive as anything you might read in the sex ads of a big city daily.

Are you awake and free from the false messages of American merchandising? Or has the omnipresent economic lie deceived you so that the only sin you can imagine in relation to money is stealing? I believe in free speech and free enterprise because I have no faith whatsoever in the moral capacity of sinful civil government to improve upon the institutions created by sinful individuals. But for God's sake let us use our freedom as Christians to say no to the desire for riches and yes to the truth: There is great gain in godliness when we are content with the simple necessities of life.

What Should the Rich Do?

So far we have been pondering the words addressed in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 to people who are not rich but who may be tempted to want to be rich. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19 Paul addresses a group in the church who are already rich. What should a rich person do with his money if he becomes a Christian? And what should a Christian do if God prospers his business so that great wealth is at his disposal? Paul answers like this:

(17) As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. (18) They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, (19) thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.

The words of verse 19 simply paraphrase Jesus' teaching. Jesus said

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus is not against investment. He is against bad investment- namely, setting your heart on the comforts and securities that money can afford in this world. Money is to be invested for eternal yields in heaven-"Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven!" How?

Luke 12:32-34 gives one answer:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

So the answer to how to lay up treasures in heaven is to spend your earthly treasures for merciful purposes in Christ's name here on earth. Give alms-that is, provide yourself with purses in heaven. Notice carefully that Jesus does not merely say that treasure in heaven will be the unexpected result of generosity on earth. No, he says we should pursue treasure in heaven. Lay it up! Provide yourselves with unfailing purses and treasures! This is pure Christian Hedonism.

You Will Be Repaid at the Resurrection of the Just

Another instance of it in the teaching of Jesus is Luke 14:13-14, where he is more specific about how to use our resources to lay up treasures in heaven.

Whenever you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot pay you back, for it will be paid back to you in the resurrection of the just.

This is virtually the same as saying, "Give alms; provide yourselves purses in heaven." Don't seek the reward of an earthly tit for tat. Be generous. Don't pad your life with luxuries and comforts. Look to the resurrection and the great reward in God "whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:11).

Beware of Being Wiser than the Bible

Beware of commentators who divert attention from the plain meaning of these texts. What would you think, for example, of the following typical comrnent on Luke 14:13-14: "The promise of reward for this kind of life is there as a fact. You do not live this way for the sake of reward. If you do you are not living in this way but in the old selfish way.'' 1

Is this true-that we are selfish and not loving if we are motivated by the promised reward? If so, why did Jesus entice us by mentioning the reward, even giving it as the basis ("for") of our action? And what would this commentator say concerning Luke 12:33, where we are not told that reward will result from our giving alms, but we are told to actively seek to get the reward-"Provide yourselves with purses!"?

And what would he say concerning the parable of the unrighteous steward (Luke 16:1-13), where Jesus concludes, "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations" ( 16:9)? The aim of this parable is to instruct the disciples in the right and loving use of worldly possessions. Jesus does not say the result of such use is to receive eternal habitations. He says, Make it your aim to secure an eternal habitation by the use of your possessions.

So it is simply wrong to say that Jesus does not want us to pursue the reward he promises. He commands that we pursue it (Luke 12:33, 16:9). More than forty times in the Gospel of Luke there are promises of reward and threats of punishment connected with the commands of Jesus.2

Of course, we must not seek the reward of earthly praise or material gain. This is clear not only from Luke 14:14, but also from Luke 6:35, "Love your enemies, and do good, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High." In other words, don't care about earthly reward; look to the heavenly reward, namely, the infinite joys of being a son of God!

Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 6: 3-4, don't care about human praise for your merciful acts. If that is your goal, that's all you will get, and that will be a pitiful reward compared to the reward of God. "When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Luring Others to the Reward by Loving It Ourselves

The reason our generosity toward others is not a sham-love when we are motivated by the longing for God's promise is that we are aiming to take those others with us into that reward. We know our joy in heaven will be greater if the people we treat with mercy are won over to the surpassing worth of Christ, and join us in praising him.

But how will we ever point them to Christ's infinite worth if we are not driven, in all we do, by the longing to have more of him? It would only be unloving if we pursued our joy at the expense of others. But if our very pursuit includes the pursuit of their joy, how is that selfish ? How am I the less loving if my longing for God moves me to give away my earthly possessions so that my joy in him can be forever doubled in your partnership of praise?