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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God teaches us the right perspective on earthly goods
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 16:1-2

Psalm 24:1-3

Psalm 24:4-5

Hymn 1

Psalm 16:3-5

Scripture readings:  Psalm 104, Acts 20:17-38

Catechism lesson: 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.  We might be tempted to think we’re actually looking pretty good with this commandment.  So far as I know, none of us have been arrested for robbing a bank or breaking into people’s houses to steal their stuff.  But our Catechism makes it clear that the eighth commandment is not just about these obvious ways of stealing.  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 necessary in today’s world.  All around us we hear voices calling us to live a different way.  For example, gambling is a huge part of our culture.  Casinos, pokies, scratchies, lotto tickets, horse racing, greyhounds, SportsBet – all these things tempt people to think there’s an easy way to free money.  And who doesn’t 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’re in Christ, united to him, 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.  That 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.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re also enabled to live out what is living in our hearts.  And by doing that we glorify God with our lives.   So this afternoon we’ll hear how God teaches us the right perspective on earthly goods.

We’ll learn about:

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

A long time back, 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 wasn’t 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 weren’t able to take out the word “mine” from the vocabularies of their citizens.  Ownership is simply part of the created order. 

And Scripture is clear that our 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 everything created belongs to God.  Psalm 50 tells us the same truth.  God says in verse 10, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”  And then he says in Psalm 50:12, “…for the world and its fullness are mine.” There isn’t a square inch of creation that doesn’t belong to God. 

Scripture is also clear that God entrusts what he’s created to man.  Answer 110, right at the end, speaks of God’s gifts to man.  You can see that 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 filled with good things.”  You could also think of some of the parables 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.  That’s 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’s no ultimate ownership here on earth.  We only have in our possession what’s 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 can’t 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 gave the eighth commandment.  He wants to protect the earthly goods he’s given to us.  When God has given someone something, no one else has a right to come along and snatch it away.  That’s not only an offense to the person involved, it’s 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 is arrogant.  It calls into question God’s wisdom.   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’ll be guarding against blaspheming God and pridefully denying his wisdom.  We’ll be instead honouring him. 

And understanding the nature of the ownership of earthly goods also gives us a good basis from which to consider the obtaining of earthly goods.  That’s our second thing we’re learning about. 

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 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’ve accumulated to their children or grandchildren.  That’s practiced in many cultures of the world, and it was also found in Old Testament Israel.  Think of Proverbs 13:22, “A good man leaves an inheritance to 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’s 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 us 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’ll be protected from being tempted to steal and defraud and so on.  Laziness is clearly spoken against in the Scriptures.  Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”  Believers have to have a healthy attitude about work.  We don’t look at it as a necessary evil, but as one way that God chooses to give us earthly goods and wealth.  Remember:  work didn’t come into the world after the fall into sin.  Adam and Eve worked before the fall and this suggests that work is also going to 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 our Saviour described it in some of his parables.  Putting your money to work is wise.  Investment shows thought for the future. 

So there are legitimate means, but there are also illegitimate means.  And our Catechism plainly describes them for us.  First off, the Catechism mentions outright theft and robbery.  Bank heists are obviously out, 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.  Those kinds of things don’t fit in God’s will for us as redeemed believers. 

Then the Catechism talks about fraud, either by force or by show of right.  Show of right is a strange expression I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else other than our Catechism.  Show of right means you’re making something appear to be good when it isn’t.  You make it look like everything is above board, but the reality is 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 that 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 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.  It’s wicked and sinful.  When we put to death the old nature by the power of Christ’s Spirit, these kinds of things can’t 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 Australia for many years, just like elsewhere in the world.   When we lived in Canada, I remember hearing about an American man who hit it big, won millions.  He was in the news.  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 he was going to give 10% of his win to the church.  Think about that if you’re tempted to buy a lottery ticket.  What are you going to do if you hit it big?   I’ll tell you one thing:  you can be sure this church is not going to accept 10% of your win.  You’re going to have to choose between your church and your money.  Which is it going to be:  God or earthly wealth?  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.”

But there’s not only lotteries, there are other forms of gambling too.  Casinos, pokies, horse betting, sports betting and so on.  Here’s the problem:  gambling isn’t about entertainment, it’s about greed.  And the eighth commandment forbids greed.  Gambling is about squandering God’s gifts, wasting them, throwing them away.  And the eighth commandment forbids our squandering of God’s gifts.  So, believers redeemed by Christ’s blood and being renewed by his Spirit can’t be gambling. 

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.

Through the use of lawful means, God gives us earthly goods and wealth.  But how do we use them?  Paul gives us some help in answering this question in Acts 20.  He says that his life was to be an example for the Ephesian believers.  Paul didn’t have his heart set on what others had, whether that was silver, gold, or clothing.  He worked hard to provide for himself and others.  Yes, he could have claimed support from the churches – that was his right as an apostle.  But instead, Paul worked hard and that was to be an example.  Verse 35, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Paul’s life was modeled on the teachings of our Lord Jesus.

Our lives are to follow the same teachings.  In his life on earth, Christ perfectly showed how it is more blessed to give.  His whole life was characterized by self-sacrificial giving.  Jesus gave himself entirely for us.  He gave out of the abundance of his riches so 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 in God’s eyes.  Through the obedience of Jesus we’re declared right with God, we’re justified before him.    

Now our lives as believers have to reflect that reality.  The obedience of Jesus is ours in our justification and it also has to be ours in our sanctification, in the daily living out of our Christian lives.  So, because of who we are in Christ, because we’re a new creation, we can 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, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  When we use our earthly goods in this way, we can expect God’s blessing. 

We’re also called to use what we’ve been given for the support of the church and the ministry of the gospel.  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 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.  That’s a Scriptural principle found in 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  That’s a good reminder how 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’re 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 Israelites were commanded to feast before God with all the earthly goods that they’d received from his hand.  In the New Testament, our 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’s to be generosity and care for the poor – absolutely, but that doesn’t imply that you have to be miserly for yourself and your family.  Enjoy what you have before the face of God and thank him for his gifts, yet always staying mindful of the temptation to materialism, which is idolatry. 

The Scriptures teach us that God delights in giving gifts to people.  He does that in the most wonderful way spiritually in Christ, but he also gives gifts physically and materially.  Some times he even blesses us with far more than we need.  Other times God gives the bare minimum.  Whatever our situation, the eighth commandment gives us a framework in which to live out our thankfulness in respect to the earthly goods we’ve received from above.  As we live out this thankfulness and love today, by God’s grace we can look ahead to the day when we’ll 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.  That suggests that our inheritance won’t just be spiritual – there’ll 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’s 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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