This week’s sermon is related to that of last week. They all have to do with money, wealth, stewardship of God’s resources and social justice. It might have been touched on last week, but it is important to briefly look at God’s position on money.
Haggai2:8: He says that silver and gold are his.
Psalms 24:1: the earth and its fullness and all that dwell in it belong to him.
Ecclesiastes 10:19: money answers all things (KJV)/answers everything (ESV). We need money for us to eat, travel, look after our families and support God’s work.
The above scriptures clearly show that money is a God-given resource or tool. It (together with other resources) is not bad in itself. There is a misconception that money is evil. Most people quote 1Timothy 6:10 and say what it does not say. They say that money is evil, yet the scripture says that it is the love (greed) of money that is evil. The godless who handle it are the ones who are the problem, not money itself.
To explain this we can use the illustration of the kitchen knife. It is a helpful tool in the kitchen. But a godless man or woman might take it and stab his or her spouse. We cannot say that the knife is evil, but the one wielding it. In such a case one would have abused a helpful tool. Abuse is abnormal use. So money is not bad, but those who put it to abnormal use are the evil ones. They use it for self indulgence, perverting justice and exploiting others. It should be used for:
• our families
• God’s work
• And those that we can help (within our means).
Now, a closer look at the three passages that have been read shows the following:
a. We must not put our trust in material things and give ourselves false security.
b. Favouratism should not be found among the Christians.
c. The value of faith is more than anything else.
d. Compassion to our fellow human beings demonstrates our relationship to God.
e. Each one must utilise the opportunities, time and resources which God freely avails.
a. We must not put our trust in material things and give ourselves false security.
In Amos, we see the notables who dwelt in the mountains of Samaria. Their city is said to have been built on a mountain and fortified (ref: 1 Kings 16:24). Due to this fortification, the Assyrian king failed to conquer this city for three years (ref: 2 Kings 17:5). Some were also prospering in their lives (ref: Amos 6:4-6). This caused the Israelites to be proud as a nation. They thought nothing bad could ever happen to them. Even when the prophet, Amos, warned them of the impending danger of captivity, they took no heed. They were too comfortable to be frightened. Further reading shows that their end was to be in captivity (ref: Amos 6:7-8).
In Luke, we also see the rich man who had everything that he wanted. He ignored Lazarus who was always at his gate. His end was immense suffering in hell.
The end of both the Israelites and the rich man was destruction and hell.
NB: it is important to note that they were not punished for being wealthy or prosperous. Their problem was that of self trust, which led to false security. They trusted in what they had. They erred by ignoring the plight of the needy. Israel was ignoring Joseph (Amos 6:6), while the rich man was not sensitive to Lazarus (Luke 16: 20-21).they thought that their wealth and power would protect their souls or deliver them in the day of calamity.
• Trusting in one’s material things and power (and not in Jesus) is living in a fools’ paradise. It causes one not to notice the impending danger to the soul. Those who trusted in their fortified city on the mountain thought that they were safe and the evil day would not affect them. Psalms 33:16-19 says that a king cannot be saved by an army or horses on the day of the calamity.
• Their pride blinded them to an extent that they thought Amos was just an unpractical and fanatical chap. they ignored his warnings of the evil day, just like others, of our day, do. They often take the gospel lightly because they are too comfortable. We should not fall into the mistake of the notables of Israel who were putting the evil day far away from them. They were self trusting and proud to an extent of being insensitive to its dangers.
• Those who dwelt in Zion (Amos 6:1), which was the holy mountain on which Jerusalem was built, also had false security. They thought that they were already covered since Jerusalem was the city of God. They considered themselves more than special by the virtue of being from Judah. As Christians we are also the notables. Jesus said that we are a city built on the mountain and we are the light of the world. As a child of God you are “a city on a hill” (like Samaria on Mt Gerizim or Jerusalem on Mt Zion) which can be noticed by everyone. (Matthew 5:14).
So this gospel is not only for those who are the notables in politics and commerce alone. It is for everyone. There are some who trust in Church positions while others comfortably lean on Church membership to an extent of neglecting their souls.
Let Jesus be our security. He is the real security. People can change and wealth can be corrupted, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
B. favouratism should not be found among the Christians.
James 2 says that there are people who discriminate against others. They treat people differently in the same Church. It says that the discrimination is done on the grounds of wealth. First preference or high seats are given to the wealthy.
The purpose of this passage is not to say that God favours the poor over the rich, but to teach that there is no partiality in God. He has unconditional love.
Christians who practice favouratism have got divided allegiance. They profess faith in Christ yet use the material and worldly standards to rate or classify others. Favouratism for Christians is the same as serving both a mammon and God. It is impossible.
The standard that should govern us is the glory of the Lord Jesus (James 2:1). In selecting people for the positions of leadership, the Church should not look at the bank accounts or material things but godliness and spiritual gifts. The standard should be the glory of God.
There is also a danger of the Church being unconsciously partial when it is driven by pity and choose the unsuitable people. Both bank accounts and pity must not be allowed to cause favouratism.
c. the value of faith is more than anything else.
To have faith is to believe in Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Saviour. It enables us to have a relationship with him. By it we became the children of God (John 1:12).
• Being his children means that we are entitled to inherit his kingdom. This is far above anything that we might think of. There is no amount of wealth that can match up to the value of faith.
• Faith also makes us equal before God. Galatians 3:28 says that there is no longer a Jew, Greek, slave or free, male or female in Christ. So when there is faith, there is no discrimination. With faith you look at people through Christ. Without faith you look at people in the light of what they possess and what they do not have.
• It is important to note that it is faith which took Lazarus to heaven. It was not poverty. We say it is faith because we hear of Lazarus at the bosom of the father of faith, Abraham (Galatians 3:29). He is the symbol of faith. He is called the friend of God because of his great faith. So Lazarus was taken to heaven by faith, not poverty. A rich man without faith endangers his soul. So is a poor man without faith.
• There is a misconception that the poor can automatically enter into heaven. It should be known that wealth, just like poverty, cannot take one into heaven. What matters is faith. One has to believe in Moses and the Prophets. Jesus and his Word must be listened to.
• So often we hear people saying that a lot of money can drive some people into vice and sponsor mistresses (small houses), but people forget that some of the mistresses are driven into such by poverty. While money can drive the godless man into fornication, poverty can also drive the godless woman into fornication. So the issue is not about having money or the lack of it, but faith. Both the rich and poor are equally nothing if they do not have faith.
• With faith one can suffer in various ways while on earth, but he or she possesses eternal life. Such will inherit the kingdom of God. Poor on earth, but are rich in heaven. The rich man in Luke and the notables in Amos were all rich on earth but poor in heaven. Lazarus and the poor (of James 2) who believe were rich in heaven.
D. compassion to our fellow human beings demonstrates our relationship to God.
Apart from self trust and false security, the other sin committed in all the three passages is that of being insensitive to the plight of fellow citizens or neighbours. They were all selfish to the extent of being blinded to the needs of those they lived with. In the book Amos, Israel was recklessly at ease and insensitive to Joseph. In Luke, the rich man indulged himself, not caring about Lazarus. Those mentioned by James also did not care for the poor. They all failed to have a heart for their fellow citizens.
• NB: The rich man was not required to go and hunt for the needy in the streets. Lazarus was right there at his gate. He was seeing him every time, but without being moved. He was simply supposed to help the one within his reach.
• Let each one of us examine him/her. Are you not ignoring your own Lazarus or ‘Lazaruses’ at your gate? I don’t mean the literal gate, but that vicinity which causes you to notice the needy, those whom you notice frequently, are related to, or stay with. he might be the orphan within your family or clan who is about to drop from college due to financial constrains; she can be your maid who is failing to send her child to the cheapest high school in town, she may be a widow in the family who cannot afford a little amount to put up a market stall, or it can be a fellow Church member who just needs a meal.
• We are not being told to give them everything that we possess. The rich man would have lost nothing if he had given Lazarus at least a meal a day. It is easy for us to take things for granted when we have much. That which we call nothing can mean the world to someone. Your drop in the ocean can be a drumful to someone.
• There are times when we get busy with things and activities and forget the souls in need. Can we afford to ignore the situations which are before our eyes and continue to sing in the Praise and Worship team, preach or lead the Church? Are we too busy to notice the screams of human desperation?
• The issue here is about the heart. It says a lot about our faith. Faith which does not notice human desperation is not faith at all. One’s relationship with God should prompt him or her to notice the ones around her or him that he can help within his or her means. Doing nothing while Lazarus is at your gate is wickedness of a higher magnitude.
This reminds us of 1John 4:12 which says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”. The same truth is echoed by 1 john 4:19 which says that one cannot love God if he or she hates the one that he or she sees. Let us be compassionate to fellow human beings so that God’s love is made complete in us.
E. each one must utilise the opportunities, time and resources which God freely avails.
The rich man did not use the opportunity that he had to do good to Lazarus. He ended up in hell and trying to correct that which cannot be undone. It was too late to make amends. He wasted the time which he had. Galatians 6:10 says; “as we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them that are of the household of faith”. The rich man failed to utilise the opportunity.
This man ignored Moses and the Prophets but wanted to create an impression that he had not heard the Word of God. The notables of Samaria were also failing to use the opportunity that they had to heed the prophecies of Amos until they were taken into captivity.
We must listen to the Gospel when it is preached to us. Once spilt, the chance cannot be recovered again. What we have at our disposal must be put to good use, without wasting our time. The following are what we have:
i. Time: once lost, cannot be recovered.
ii. Money: whatever amount? It is a resource which must not be wasted. No one is expected to serve or help beyond his level, but each one should be faithful on what he/she has.
iii. Relationships/people: those around us are a gift from God. Let us do all the good, for them, that we can while we have the time and opportunity.
iv. Last but not least, the opportunity to hear his Gospel and to be saved. This is one of the greatest blessings that we have as human beings.
Let us thank God for all the resources which he has given us out of his abundance. Shall we go and manage them to his glory. it is our prayer that we live for him through faith so that His Holy Spirit may help us to love unconditionally as we utilise the opportunity that he has given us. Amen.