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INTRODUCTION:

1.   As your elders and ministry staff, we are thankful for every member of the congregation, and want to do our best to help you grow more and more into the image of Christ − for that is the will of God for all of us.

2.   At our last all-church service (8-26-07), a letter from the Board of Directors and the eldership was read which reflected a downward trend in contributions that will certainly have adverse effects on the church if the trend is not reversed.

3.   It is important to remember that our budget was originally set by our present giving level at the time, and it is also important to remember that a budget is not necessarily what we should or could be giving.

4.   Therefore, while meeting the budget does keep us financially solvent as an organization, it does not alone give us the complete picture of our spiritual health in financial matters.

5.   We have two primary concerns that we want to share with you today:  one, the need for each member of the Body to do his or her fair share as a part of our church family; and two, for each member to view and use their money in accordance with biblical principles.  On the first point, note what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:13:  “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.”

6.   In other words, each member should be giving a biblically reasonable and righteous amount, based on their income.  Those who don’t give in this manner increase the burden on their fellow Christians, and in effect, are expecting others to carry the load that they should be carrying themselves.

7.   This practice is clearly not what Paul calls “equality.”  Each of us needs to ask ourselves if we are doing our part in supporting the work of the Phoenix church.

8.   The second point is a much more serious one − that of being righteous in our view and use of money generally.

9.   For about a year, we have been made aware by our administrator that the number of checks for both our weekly contributions and our Special Contribution does not reflect well the number of our members.

10. Although many of our members gave generously to the Special Contribution, a number evidently did not give anything, except perhaps their normal weekly contribution.  As a result, we are about $40,000 below our goal for the Special.

11. As stated, the same observation can be made about the ratio of members and checks being given in our regular weekly contributions.  This situation does not meet the equality standard or other biblical principles of giving.

12. Our concern is that some members are falling prey to Satan’s plan to choke them out spiritually.  Consider what Jesus said in Mark 4:18-19:  “ Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

13. A cursory reading of Luke’s Gospel alone will demonstrate clearly the emphasis Jesus placed on how we view and use money − an emphasis that we have to take seriously.

14. Due to this concern about materialism and the underlying sin of greed it represents, we wanted to share a lesson with you and ask you to study it out and pray about it, and then let us help you as you determine your possible need for help.

15. Perhaps there are situations of financial crises about which we are unaware and want to be helping you with.

16. But perhaps the reasons are more related to the heart sins of materialism and greed, and therefore those thus involved need spiritual counsel and guidance.

17. At any rate, we as your shepherds and leaders cannot fail to address spiritual issues as potentially serious as this one is.  With that in mind, please open your minds and hearts to the following material, as you listen very carefully and prayerfully.

BODY:

I.      Key New Testament Passages About Greed and Materialism

Mark 4:18-19

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; [19] but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 7:20-23

He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ [21] For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, [22] greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. [23] All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ “

Luke 11:39-42

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? [41] But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. [42] “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” [14] Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” [15] Then he said 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.” [16] And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. [17] He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ [18] “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘ [20] “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ [21] “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 16:9-15

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. [10] “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. [11] So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? [12] And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? [13] “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” [14] The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. [15] He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

Romans 1:29-32

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, [30] slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; [31] they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. [32] Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– [10] not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. [11] But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders [10] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:3-7

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. [4] Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. [5] For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person–such a man is an idolater–has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. [7] Therefore do not be partners with them.

Colossians 3:5-6

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. [6] Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

1 Timothy 6:9-11

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. [10] For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. [11] But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

1 Timothy 6:17-19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. [18] Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. [19] In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

II.    Practical Applications From Biblical Passages

A.   Wealth is deceitful (Mark 4:19) − how does it deceive?

1.   Primarily in fooling us into thinking that possessions will make us happy.

2.   Also, in fooling us into thinking that we can love God and love material things at the same time (which Jesus denied strongly in Luke 16:13).

3.   Therefore, Satan is anxious to provide us with many rationalizations for materialism.

4.   Perhaps this is why God clearly identifies greed with “idolatry” in Colossians 3:6 − he doesn’t want us to miss the bottom line.  Many sins have been called idolatry in various sermons, but in this passage, greed is clearly identified as idolatry.  Idolatry is alive and well in the church today, sad to say.

5.   The popular “health and wealth” gospel has made quite an impact in our religious society, as shown by the popularity of books about how to be successful (i.e., make more money, get rich).  Their thin veneer of spiritual terminology doesn’t change the multiple biblical errors and ungodly worldviews taught therein.

6.   When you combine these factors listed below, you begin to get the big picture of how deceived we can become in God’s sight, and what has affected us thusly:

a.    A general lack of teaching on the subject of spirituality and money.

b.    The effects of “pulling back” over the last few years.

c.    The “Health and Wealth” gospel viewpoint of even very religious people around us.

d.    The “ups and downs” of the housing market in Phoenix in the past couple of years has likely caused some to focus too much of their thinking on money made or lost.

B.   The presence of materialism and greed says that God is not enough for us.  Read Hebrews 13:5-6:  “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ [6] So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’”

C.   Failure to view and use money spiritually limits the spiritual blessings God will give us (which can affect us and our families in ways we may not fully understand).

1.   Luke 16:11:  “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

2.   2 Corinthians 9:6-11:  “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. [7] Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. [8] And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. [9] As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ [10] Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. [11] You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

3.   There is an unmistakable correlation between giving financially and being blessed spiritually, and the converse is also true − failing to give financially limits our blessings spiritually (and possibly financially as well).  Another way of saying the latter is that we are limiting the blessings we and our family might otherwise receive (and surely we and our families need all the blessings we can get!).

D.   Giving our money for God’s work is called a “grace” − a spiritual quality.  2 Corinthians 8:7: “But just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us–see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

E.    Greed is shown to be a very serious biblical issue by its inclusion in sin lists.

1.   It is listed with all of these sins in the various sin lists in the passages noted above:  evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, folly, wickedness, evil, depravity, murder, strife, gossip, hating God, insolence, boastful, inventing ways doing evil, disobedience to parents, senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless, idolatry, drunkenness, swindling, adultery, male prostitution, homosexuality, sexual impurity, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, lust, and evil desires.

2.   No wonder God said in Colossians 3:6:  “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”

F.    Finally, greed is shown to be very serious because it is a sin which can lead to church discipline (disfellowship).

1.   Read 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 again (quoted above already).

2.   How should we define greed − and how does it show up in our lives?

a.    Admittedly, defining greed in practical, identifiable terms is not an easy matter, and materialism’s definition is influenced considerably by our culture and environment.

b.    We could say that it shows up when someone is dishonest in gaining more money − which would be true.

c.    However, dishonesty is mentioned separately by the terms “theft,” “deceit,” and “swindling” in the above passages.

d.    Therefore, for Christians, one good indicator of greed is a comparison of our level of income and wealth to our level of giving financially to the church.

e.    Note that wealth may be quite different from income.

(1) Proverbs 3:9:  “Honor the Lord with your wealth.”

(2) Considering the possessions most of us have, the reality is that there is a lot of “wealth” in the church, even if it’s not direct income.

III.  Elder’s Concerns and Actions

A.   Nearly three years ago, the elders asked everyone to indicate on the Membership Pledge sheet what their weekly giving amount would be.  We did that to not only be able to set a reasonable budget, but to help our members examine their own hearts and how they actually were giving.

B.   Here are the excerpts from that Pledge, the last two of which relate to giving:

I want to be under the care and oversight of the Elders and so I commit to the following:

1.     I am committed to be part of a house church or other designated small group in order to practice the “one another” “each other” teachings of the NT.

2.     I am committed to attendance at regularly scheduled Sunday and midweek services, and at any other special services that the elders ask each member to attend.

3.     I am committed to giving sacrificially to support God’s work in Phoenix and in other locations where it is decided (by the Elders) that we as a church should help.

4.     In order to enable the elders and the Board of Directors to accurately plan a budget, I pledge to give financially in the amount of _______________ per week on average.

C.   We believe that the elders have both the right and the obligation to evaluate the spirituality of our members (which includes their finances), since God holds them accountable for the flock under their care (Hebrews 13:17).  We also believe that those staff members who lead at the Region level also share this right and obligation.

D.   One thing that likely happened during the past several years is that some members began by questioning how money contributed to the church was spent, cut back on their giving, and now have committed that money to fulfill that “desire for other things” mentioned in Mark 4:19.  Now many are over-extended, and guess what suffers?

E.    Those who have cut back are in essence expecting their brothers and sisters in the church to cover what they are not giving, which shows a lack of love toward others who are making some sacrifices to give righteously.  That is neither righteous before God nor fair to others in our spiritual family.

CONCLUSION:

1.   Therefore, as mentioned in the Introduction above, we are going to try and help our members who appear to be limited in their giving to the church to see how we might help.

2.   If there are financial crises of which we are unaware, we want to be able to help financially as needed.

3.   If there are heart crises involved, we want to help in a spiritual way.

4.   Considering the gravity of this sin in God’s sight, we believe that we have an obligation to explore the reasons behind very limited amounts of giving in individual cases.

5.   To be absolutely clear − it is not about the money; it is about the spirituality involved.  God knows that our money and our hearts are usually very closely connected, for Jesus said:  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

6.   Our desire as your shepherds and leaders is that your heart and your treasure are in the right place, and this passage makes it clear that the path to spirituality includes putting our treasure in the right place.

7.   Please study out this lesson and the passages within it, and let us help you as you determine how you may need help.  Thank you very much!  We love you very much.

 —Gordon Ferguson (August 2007)

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