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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Trust in God—Not in Any Material Thing
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-08-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 111:1,5                                                                                 

Hy 8  [after Nicene Creed]

Reading – Proverbs 11; Proverbs 30:1-9

Ps 49:2,5                                                                                

Sermon – Lord’s Day 42

Ps 62:6,7

Ps 73:8,9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, Solomon is a very insightful teacher of God’s commandments. In the book of Proverbs he has a lot to say about living wisely in every area of life that is addressed by God’s law. He has lessons in regards to our worship and prayer, family structure, marriage and sexuality, neighbour relations, and more. This holds true when we arrive at the eighth commandment, to consider God’s will for money and material things--here too, Solomon says a lot about our possessions.

Before we dive in, though, there’s an awkward question: Is Solomon really the best one to be teaching this? (Maybe you would think the same in connection with the seventh commandment, when Solomon speaks in Proverbs 5, 6, and 7 about the importance of purity and a godly marriage. Who is he to say anything about faithfulness in marriage and delighting in the wife of your youth, the man who had hundreds of wives?!).

Yes, and what can Solomon really say about the eighth commandment? For this was a man who was famous for his riches, with no end to his gold, his ships and palaces. You could even say that it was his wealth, together with his women, that led him away from God. So isn’t anything that he says about money best taken with a grain of salt?

Yet no matter the human author of Scripture, it’s still the inspired Word of God. What’s more, we have Solomon’s mature reflections on wealth in Ecclesiastes 2. This was probably written near the end of his life, when he came to realize he’d been wrong about things. He first talks about those material things that he once treasured, “I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards… I acquired male and female servants… Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered… silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces” (vv 4-8).

But then, Solomon says, “I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (v 9). He came to the painful awareness that wealth is insecure, that money doesn’t buy happiness. This was the same thing that he’d once taught in Proverbs, only now the lesson hits home harder. This is the lesson that we’ll consider in Lord’s Day 42,

Trust in God—not in any material thing:

  1. “he who trusts in his riches will fall”
  2. “but the righteous will flourish like foliage”

 

1) “He who trusts in his riches will fall:” Sometimes we can become negative about money and all the harm it can cause. So we look at it with suspicion, and we say, “Well, it’s only money. It’s a material thing, as opposed to something spiritual.” But this life, when we view it properly, doesn’t consist of spiritual matters up here, and material (less important) stuff down there. Life consists of countless things that have both material and spiritual aspects. You could say that it’s all spiritual! Everything that we do has to do with God.

So also when we’re talking about our monthly income, and our retirement fund, and our other assets. They all belong to God—therefore it’s always a spiritual matter, how we spend, and what we buy, and what we donate. In all these matters, do we honour what our God desires?

When the Catechism explains the eighth commandment, it starts by mentioning some things that we all agree are wrong. There’s “outright theft and robbery” (Q&A 110). Every week the local paper has a crime column about service stations that have been robbed, and homes that have been broken into.

The Catechism also mentions “wicked schemes and devices,” like a recent scam where people were selling hundreds of gift cards that were actually worthless. Solomon addresses some of these practices in Proverbs, like in 11:1, “Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.”

We wouldn’t rob our local bank, so it’d be easy to dismiss these warnings, together with much of what the Catechism says. “Deceptive merchandising, counterfeit money, and usury” are also far-removed from our daily life. But this commandment is just about the “big” offenses. Think of how money is so much an integral part of daily life: from grocery shopping to fundraising, from charitable gifts to the way we run our business and pay our taxes. I don’t want to give anyone any ideas, but there can be cheating in so many areas, ways to advantage yourself wrongly. The amounts can be small; the losses hardly noticeable. Then we remember: it’s all God’s. And He sees all our dealings.

Solomon knows that if money has become too important to you, you’ll probably seek an illegitimate way to increase it. So he warns in 13:11, “Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase.” We can see that often in Proverbs, that there’s no profit in sin—it just ends up in ruin—but righteousness is blessed.

Perhaps we still can’t imagine enriching ourselves dishonestly. But we need to keep reading. Like in 11:24, “There is one who withholds more than is right…” Again a couple verses later: “The people will curse him who withholds grain…” (v 26). Solomon isn’t talking anymore about theft and robbery, but things we’re guilty of by NOT taking action, sitting on our hands and wallets. When we have money and resources, and we deny them to those in need.

This looks like a subtle sin. It’s as subtle as not putting anything in the offering bag. It’s as subtle as never increasing your monthly transfer to the church. Hardly anyone knows, and no one gets hurt. But as always, we need to ask: What’s the “heart issue” behind our withholding?

It’s at least two-fold. First, we said already that God is the owner of everything we have. That means we must never use his blessings only for our holidays and interests, but we have to think about God’s priorities. What is the Lord concerned about? What are His priorities? God desires that his kingdom come. He wants the church increased and preserved. That project takes prayer, yes, and it requires the Holy Spirit. But that project also takes money. Money for the ministry of the gospel, here and abroad. Money for schools and education and Bible translation. The spread of God’s Word is a priority for Him, so it must be for us.

What else is God concerned about? The poor and the suffering. That’s a refrain in the Old Testament: “Don’t forget the widows, the orphans, the needy.” We hear Jesus saying the same thing. God has deep compassion for those who are poor, for those who suffer and struggle, and so should we. And we show compassion by our giving. Withholding more than is right shows that God’s priorities aren’t that important to us.

Withholding your gifts could reveal that you have a second “heart issue,” too. It’s the one spoken of by Solomon in our theme verse, “He who trusts in his riches will fall” (11:28). There’s a very real connection between “withholding” and “trusting in riches.” If your happiness and security comes from staring at your possessions and holding onto your money, then it’s going to be really hard to give some of it away.

And this is a challenge, both for the wealthy and for those who have less. One who is rich might not “withhold” his gifts—but are his donations really a sacrifice? Ask if Jesus would commend us for our great generosity. Or would He lump us together with those at the temple who gave “out of their riches,” include us with those who were shamed by the widow who gave her last two pennies?

Giving is also a challenge for those who have less. You say, “I don’t have riches, so I have to keep the little I possess. I just can’t afford to support God’s causes.” But notice how Solomon puts it. He doesn’t say, “You must give x-amount of shekels. It must add up to this percentage of your net income. No, he says, “There is one who withholds more than is right…” (11:24). What is right? That’s for you to determine. That’s for you to consider in a spirit of honesty and thanksgiving before God. “Do I, by what I give, really show that I fear the LORD. Do I show that I revere his Name because of his goodness toward me?”

So God forbids our greed. He also forbids the “squandering of his gifts” (Q&A 110), when we don’t exercise wisdom in managing our money. Solomon touches on this in 21:5, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of one who is hasty, [lead] surely to poverty.” There are so many ways we could be wasteful. Spending money on more material things we’re not really going to use. Spending money without thinking ahead to next year. Spending more and more money that we don’t have.

What is at stake in all this? God wants us to live wisely, of course. But it goes deeper. When we’re greedy for more, or when we squander God’s gifts, we put ourselves in a place where it’s hard to live in the joy of faith. Anxiety over money makes us feel far from the Lord and his care. For we’re always thinking, “This is up to me. God provides, but I need to do this.”

Money might be important—no, it’s a necessary part of this life. But it’s also fundamentally unreliable, and it’s no guarantee of our happiness. Take 17:1 for example, “Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.” That doesn’t mean the LORD is opposed to riches, or that stale bread is a good diet. God recognizes that being poor can bring real struggles. He doesn’t glorify poverty, but He says that in some cases it is better.

Better is a situation of contentment with your earthly lot—humble as it is—than a situation of wealth, with misery. Real blessings aren’t found in the quantity of your food or the quality of your fine table settings. Real blessings have different values entirely: in peace, in fellowship, and thanksgiving. Think of those humble homes where the income might be average, and the meals simple, but where genuine prayers are sent up, God is thanked for the food, and it’s enjoyed in an atmosphere of love. That’s a lot different from the stately home where there’s great luxury, but also arguments and envy and unbelief. “Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.”

The point is then how we receive God’s good gifts—whatever their number. Do we receive them in awareness that they’re from God, and in the desire that they be for God? That’s the conclusion Solomon arrives at in Ecclesiastes 2 when he reflects on his life. He didn’t need all that luxury and comfort because, he says: “Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This I saw was from the hand of God” (v 24). That’s how to receive blessings, great and small: in true humility, in simple gratitude, and in the fear of God.

That stands opposite to the other way of life, spoken of in our theme verse: “He who trusts in his riches will fall” (11:28). It’s so hard not to do that, to depend on the things we see and have. It’s hard not to feel that warm glow inside when we see our new possessions, or to be a little more confident our accounts are full. But at what cost do we possess things? How much are we invested in building up a little kingdom here on earth? When we depend on our riches, we’re not living anymore in the fear of God.

And that won’t get us anywhere. Riches won’t preserve us. Sooner or later, a reliance on wealth will be bitterly disappointed. Remember the bottom line of Solomon’s inventory in Ecclesiastes 2, “All was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.” He made the same observation years before, in our chapter, “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath” (11:4). Wealth can do nothing for you if you haven’t served God! So serve God with your possessions, and you will flourish.

 

2) “But the righteous will flourish like foliage:” You probably know the theme of Proverbs, that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. That means that if we love and revere God, every day we should be acting in a response to who God is. His character changes our character.

Now let’s relate that to the eighth commandment. Is the LORD generous, or is He stingy and tight-fisted? Is He kind, or cruel? Simple question, easy answer, and straightforward application. Jesus said it best, “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.”

This is what the Catechism teaches as the positive side of the eighth commandment. “I must promote my neighbour’s good wherever I can and may… and work faithfully so that I may be able to give to those in need” (Q&A 111). We see it in Proverbs 11:25, “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” If you have been the recipient of God’s amazing generosity, it’s fitting that you be generous yourself.

And when we give money away, it is actually an act of faith: there’s no hope of getting something in return, there is only God’s promise of reward. And that is the promise, Scripture says: He makes the generous rich. Maybe you’ve experienced this. When you give of yourself, there’s a rich blessing not just for the person receiving, but there’s a blessing for you—giving.

We find it taught in Proverbs 3:9-10, “Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” Whoever gives freely in the Kingdom will always receive far more. If we want to save for the future, what better place than in the treasury of the King!

It’s not about earning God’s favour. Again, it’s all about the “heart” behind the action. When we give generously, we show that we’re not trusting in our wealth, but we’re fearing the LORD. With every gift, we make the statement, “I don’t need to keep this in order to stay happy and to feel secure. I can give this away, because I know my God, and how He cares for his own.”

Notice the contrast in our theme verse. The mirror opposite of “one who trusts in riches” is “the righteous” (11:28). In other words, the righteous are those who live by faith—true faith. And these righteous, says Solomon, will “flourish like foliage” (v 28). That’s a common way in the Bible to describe those who fear God: they’re like trees, bearing fruit in season, whose leaves do not wither. Because when you make God your confidence, that attitude comes out in all sorts of ways. Faith buds and blossoms and bears fruit! Your trust in God is expressed by your giving. Your trust in God comes out through your diligent work. If you trust in God, there’s also a change in how you make your plans and set goals.

The fear of God even changes our outlook on material things themselves. We see that in the prayer of 30:7-9. Notice that it’s not Solomon, but Agur, who shares these words with us. The identity of Agur is unknown to us, but one thing is almost certain: he wasn’t as wealthy as Solomon. So Agur is probably in a good position to write this, “Two things I request of you (deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

In this prayer, Agur makes an unthinkable request: he asks not to be rich! When you’re young, you might sometimes daydream, “Now, if I had a million dollars, what would I spend it on? Where would my shopping-spree take me…?” And when you get older, the world still promotes such dreams, with lotteries and schemes to get rich, and a constant pressure to acquire and indulge.

But Agur knows that riches can be a real danger to our wellbeing of spirit. Because when you’re rich, it’s easy to start thinking, “Who is the LORD, that I need his grace or his help? Obviously, I can manage well enough on my own. If I run stuck, I’ve got my back-up plan and my security.” Too often, the more we receive from God, the less He receives from us. So Agur prays: “Don’t make me rich! Don’t test me with great wealth!” What a prayer, beloved! Have you ever asked that of God?

Agur’s realistic, though. He knows that poverty also can be a real danger. There can be that draining stress and worry, that concern over unforeseen expenses and unpaid bills. The desire for money can be so strong, there arises the temptation to steal or to lie. “So keep me from poverty,” he prays.

Neither too much, nor too little. Neither a desperate scarcity, nor a deceptive surplus… Do you hear what Agur is saying? Because of his fear for God, this is his chief concern: that whatever his earthly position, he still honour the LORD. And the best place to do that, says Agur, is when he has enough: “Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me.” He prays that God would give him what is necessary, so he can enjoy life, be thankful, and be faithful. What a liberating thing to pray! Because doesn’t God know exactly what we need? And doesn’t God care for us so deeply, his dear children in Christ? He does, so He will provide.

Compare what Agur says with what Christ taught in the Lord’s prayer. Jesus said that receiving any material thing must begin with folding our hands in prayer. That expresses our real dependence on God; it’s the faith underlying that simple petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We say to the God who has become our Father, “Provide us with all our bodily needs so that we may acknowledge that you are the only fountain of all good, and that our care and labour, and also your gifts, cannot do us any good with your blessing.” And hear how the petition ends, “Grant that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it only in you” (Q&A 125).

That’s the core issue, isn’t it? That we trust in God, and that we trust in him alone. Maybe it has pleased the LORD to make us stewards of significant riches, and to refine us through the temptations of wealth. Or maybe God has given us less, and has seen fit to test us with trials around our work and income. But in whatever state He’s put us, let us seek to glorify God, and to trust in God. For we know that we can.

In times of blessing and times of hardship, let God in Christ be your portion and treasure. Love God and honour God as your real joy, your sure confidence. And if you trust in Him—this is his promise—the LORD will never let you down.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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