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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:The Believer and Earthly Goods
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)
 
Preached:2005
Added:2006-07-11
Updated:2007-08-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Psalm 16:1-2

Hymn 1A

Psalm 24:1-3

Psalm 24:4-5

Psalm 16:3-5

Readings: Psalm 104, Acts 20:17-38

Text: Lord’s Day 42

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


Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

If we just look at it superficially, the eighth commandment looks easy enough to keep. You shall not steal. Perhaps aside from some minor league cookie jar thieves, we may actually be looking pretty good on this one. So far as I know, none of us have been busted for holding up financial institutions or breaking into our neighbours’ houses to steal their goods. But the Catechism makes it clear that the eighth commandment is not just about these superficial kinds of things, serious enough as they are. The eighth commandment goes much deeper and speaks not only to outward actions, but also to what lives in our hearts.

As people redeemed by Christ, we recognize this call to thankful obedience as being necessary in today’s world. All around us we hear voices calling us to live a different way. A magazine ad for an online casino calls out “Good things come to those who play.” The twenty-something man in the ad looks on wistfully as money falls from the sky -- American greenbacks, no less! The little text box sweetens the pot: “Exclusive offer! Get up to $125 free!” Free money! Who can resist? I can’t get these good things if I don’t play. And I want those good things. I want free money.

It’s so easy to get led in that direction and others like it. They all equally lead away from Christ and the freedom he came to bring us. When we are in Christ, we want to stay in him. We want to show our thankfulness to him, our love for him. We do that by living within the set framework of our covenant relationship. This framework includes the eighth commandment. Reflection on this commandment gives us a healthy outlook on earthly goods and wealth. And this healthy outlook is first a matter of the heart. But by the power of the Spirit, we’re also enabled to live out what is living in our hearts. And by doing this we glorify God with our lives. The Word is preached this afternoon with this theme:

The eighth commandment speaks about the believer and earthly goods.

It speaks about:

  1. The ownership of earthly goods
  2. The obtaining of earthly goods
  3. The use of earthly goods

1. The eighth commandment speaks about the ownership of earthly goods.

When our first child was born, my wife and I made a determined effort to keep certain words out of his vocabulary for as long as we possibly could. One of those words was “no.” Another word was “mine.” However, it was not long after he began speaking that both those words inevitably crept in. The word “mine” speaks of possession and ownership and it’s an inevitable part of the world in which we live. Even the most communist nations that ever existed were not able to excise the word “mine” from the vocabularies of their citizens. Ownership is part of the created order.

And Scripture is clear that the Creator is the ultimate owner of everything. If we just look at Psalm 104, it’s striking that God not only is in control of all creation, he also lays claim to ownership of it all. The two don’t necessarily go together. You can control something, but not necessarily own it. Verse 24 of Psalm 104 tells us that everything created belongs to God. Psalm 50 tells us the same truth. In verses 10-12, “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.” There is not a square inch of creation that does not belong to God!

Scripture is also clear that God gives what he has created to man. Answer 110, right at the end, speaks of God’s gifts to man. You can see this in Psalm 104 as well. God gives food to all his creation, including man. By clearing the land of lions during the day, God makes it possible for man to do his work. Verse 28, “…when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.” Here too, you could also think of some of the parables that the Lord Jesus told. Think of the Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19. The noble man in the parable gave ten minas to ten of his servants. This is intended to portray what God does: he entrusts people with gifts. But in the end those gifts remain the ultimate possession of the giver.

So, with our eyes only on God, there is no ultimate ownership here on earth. We only have in our possession what has been entrusted to us. God gives things to us, but when we use the word “mine” we should keep in mind that God is really the only one who can say “mine.” We have to increasingly think in terms of “yours” with a capital “Y.”

But with our eyes here on earth, we do speak of ownership and property rights. We can use the word “mine.” What God has entrusted to one person cannot be simply taken at will by another person. You see, we can only speak of ownership and property rights insofar as God has given us these things. To put it another way, our ownership is derived from God’s ownership.

Seeing that helps us understand why God gives the eighth commandment. He wants to protect the earthly goods that he has given to us. When the LORD has given someone something, no one else has a right to come along and snatch it away. This not only is an offense to the person involved, it is a slap in God’s face. Such an action says that God was wrong for entrusting that person with this gift. God should have given it to me instead! This arrogantly calls into question God’s wisdom and love. So, the eighth commandment is about protecting what God has given to people, but also about protecting God’s character. When we joyfully and thankfully live within the framework God sets, we will be guarding against blaspheming God and pridefully denying his wisdom and care for us.

And understanding the nature of the ownership of earthly goods also gives us a good basis from which to consider the obtaining and use of earthly goods. Let’s now look at the obtaining…

2. The obtaining of earthly goods.

God always uses means to give gifts, both spiritually and materially. He works through legitimate means to entrust material gifts to his people. What are those legitimate means?

I’ll mention three. Maybe you can think of more, but there are three that stand out as being the most usual ways that God allows us to receive earthly goods and wealth from his hand. The first is through inheritance. When parents, grandparents or other relatives pass away, they pass on the wealth they have accumulated to their children or grandchildren. This is practiced in many cultures of the world, and of course it was also found in Old Testament Israel. Think of Proverbs 13:22, “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children…”

Another legitimate way of obtaining earthly goods and wealth is by receiving gifts from other people. Out of the goodness of their heart, someone could decide to give you a gift of some sort. It is perfectly legitimate for believers to accept such gifts and to see them as ultimately coming from God’s hand.

Finally, there are the most common ways of obtaining earthly goods and wealth. This stems from God’s command for man to work. Right from the beginning of the world, before the fall into sin, God gave the command to labour. And this labour was expected to produce fruit. When work is blessed by God, God uses it to entrust us with earthly goods and wealth. So also the Catechism explains the eighth commandment as God commanding us to work faithfully. You see, when a man works, he normally gets what he needs for himself and his family. He will be protected from being tempted to steal and defraud and so on. Laziness is clearly spoken against in the Scriptures. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” Believers have to have a healthy attitude about work, looking at it not as a necessary evil, but among other things as one way that God uses to give us earthly goods and wealth. Work did not appear after the fall into sin! Adam and Eve worked before the fall and this suggests that work will also be a part of life in the new heavens and new earth.

Closely connected with work is investment -- in fact, we can put the two together. Investment is working with what you have to make more. Investment is also a legitimate means of obtaining earthly goods. Investment is legitimized by the way that our Saviour described it in some of his parables. Putting your money to work is wise and shows thought for the future.

So there are legitimate means, but there are also illegitimate means. And our Catechism very plainly lines them out for us. First off, the Catechism mentions outright theft and robbery. Bank heists are obviously out, but so are shoplifting and siphoning money out of where it rightfully belongs, whether that’s mom’s purse or dad’s wallet or the accounts of your employer. These kinds of things do not fit in God’s will for our lives as redeemed believers.

Then the Catechism talks about fraud, either by force or by show of right. Show of right is a strange expression that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else other than our translation of the Catechism. Show of right means that you’re making something appear to be good when it is not. You make it look like everything is above board, but the reality is that you’re being crooked behind the scenes. This applies especially to believers doing business. Everything we do as Christian business people has to be above reproach -- not only as far as what the public and the government can see, but also as far as the Lord can see -- which, of course, means in everything. But this also applies to the rest of us too. For instance, when we’re not working when we’re able bodied and we could work and then receiving assistance from the church or the government. We make it look like we can’t work, but the reality is that we’re simply lazy. Of course, it can happen that we’re unemployed for a time through no fault of our own. That’s something different. We’re talking about being able to work, but not wanting to, just so you can receive an income apart from work. That’s a form of fraud. When we put to death the old nature by the power of Christ’s Spirit, these kinds of things are not going to have a place in our lives.

Neither will gambling. Gambling is “the voluntary risking of a sum of money on the outcome of a game or other event.” I think we still need to make special mention of this today. Lotteries have been around in Canada for a lot of years now. For a long time, we’ve been told to “Just imagine.” Sometimes also believers will be sucked into the “Just imagine” mindset. Do you remember the fellow in the States a couple years back who hit it big? He told the media that he’d been praying for this all along and then finally God answered his prayer. Then he topped it all off by saying that he was going to give 10% of his win to the church. Think about that when you’re tempted to “just imagine.” What are you going to do if you hit it big? It’s going to be a public matter -- the whole church will know that you won -- a public sin. And you can be sure that this church is not going to accept 10% of your win! You’re going to have to choose between your church and your money. God and mammon. You can’t have both. Why not just avoid such a dilemma altogether? Remember the saying, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” So, be careful what you “just imagine.”

But there’s not only lotteries, we also have to say something about the current popularity of poker. ESPN and other sports networks have glamourized gambling and made it into a riveting spectator sport. But when you play poker for cash, there is a big element of gambling involved. Sure, there might also be some skill, but at the end of the day, the risk involved makes it still gambling no matter how you try to rationalize it. And gambling is about greed. And the eighth commandment forbids greed. Gambling is about squandering God’s gifts. And the eighth commandment forbids our squandering of God’s gifts. So, believers redeemed by Christ’s blood and being renewed by his Spirit are not going to be playing poker for cash.

Believers will seek to obtain their earthly goods and wealth only in God’s ways. They’ll also seek to use those goods in his ways. That’s our last point this afternoon:

3. The use of earthly goods.

So, through the use of lawful means, God gives us earthly goods and wealth. Now the question comes, how do we use them? Paul gives us some help in answering this question in Acts 20. He clearly says that his life was to be an example for the Ephesian believers. Paul did not have his heart set on what others had, whether that was silver, gold, or clothing. He worked hard to provide for himself and others, even though he could have claimed support from the churches -- that was his right as an apostle. Instead, Paul worked hard and this was to be an example. Verse 35, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the word the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” So, Paul’s life was modeled on the teachings of the Lord Jesus.

Our lives are to follow the same teachings. In his life on earth, Christ perfectly showed how it is indeed more blessed to give. Like we heard last Sunday morning, his whole life was characterized by self-sacrificial giving. He gave himself entirely for us. He gave out of the abundance of his riches so that we could share in life eternal, righteousness, and glory. And his obedience in doing all this is credited to us who are in him by true faith! His perfect obedience in giving is now our obedience.

That means that our lives as believers are going to reflect our status in Christ. His obedience is ours in principle and it also has to be ours in practice, in the daily living out of our lives. So, because of who we are in Christ, because we are a new creation, we look at our earthly goods and wealth as gifts from God. That makes us into stewards: people who are responsible for taking care of what properly belongs to someone else. And the proper model for understanding how we use our gifts then is stewardship.

As stewards, we’re called by God to use the earthly goods that he’s given to us cheerfully and willingly for the benefit of those in need. Think of what the Spirit says to us in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” When we use our earthly goods in this way, we can count on God’s blessing over us.

We’re also called to use what we’ve been given for the support of the church and the ministry of the gospel. All communicant members of this church have received a box of envelopes for this purpose. If you’re receiving any income, the priority should always be to give of your first fruits to the Lord. Through this use of your earthly goods and wealth, the ministry of the gospel can be maintained locally and also in other places through the mission work that we support.

We also use what God has given to support ourselves and our families. There’s a well-known saying that charity begins at home. This is a Scriptural principle that we find in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That’s a good reminder that our family has to be another priority in our lives when we think about how we use the earthly goods entrusted to us by the LORD.

Finally, when we are in Christ and living in his ways, we can also use our earthly goods for our own personal pleasure and enjoyment. And we can do that without any guilt. In the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, the people of God were commanded to feast before the LORD with all the earthly goods that they had received from his hand. In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus knew about poverty, but yet he attended a lavish wedding feast and ate meals in the homes of rich people. We can rejoice and enjoy when God blesses us with good things. There is to be generosity and care for the poor -- absolutely, but that does not imply that you have to be miserly for yourself and your family. Do that so long as you enjoy what you have before the face of God and thank him for his gifts, steering a course clear away from materialism, which is idolatry.

The Scriptures teach us that God delights in giving gifts to people. He does this spiritually in Christ, but also physically and materially. Some times he even blesses us with much more than we need. Other times the LORD gives the bare minimum. Whatever our situation, the eighth word gives us a framework in which to live out our thankfulness in respect to the earthly goods we have received from above. As we live out this thankfulness and love today, by God’s grace we can look ahead to a day when we will receive a rich inheritance in the new heavens and new earth. Revelation 21:24 speaks of the kings of the earth bringing their splendour into the new Jerusalem. This suggests that our inheritance will not just be spiritual, there will be a physical, material aspect as well. The Spirit is preparing us for that day. So, let’s be committed to walking in step with him, committed to thankful and loving obedience to our God today. Let’s be faithfully using the earthly goods he has given us, for his glory today and forever. AMEN.




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

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