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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Owned by Christ, we own earthly things differently.
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-09-11
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 34:1,4                                                                                  

Hy 1

Reading – Ecclesiastes 5:8-20; Luke 12:13-34

Ps 62:4,5,6,7

Sermon – Lord’s Day 42

Ps 73:8,9

Hy 65:1,2,3,4

* 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, what are you doing tomorrow morning? For a good many of us, it’s going back to work. Time for another week: showing up for a shift, tackling a project, sorting through emails, building another house, managing workflow. We are grateful when we find our work satisfying, when we can bless other people through what we do, when work is an opportunity to use our God-given talents. But at the end of the day, most often, we work because we want to earn money—because we need to.

Or maybe we’re in school tomorrow, or at college or university, or we’re apprenticing, looking to gain skills and useful knowledge. Education is wonderful and learning is an adventure. But most often it’s in the interest of one day getting a good job. We want to earn money, because we know we have to spend money: buying a house, filling our car with gas, getting new shoes.

This is life. It is basic to the way the world works: earning, buying, selling, putting money aside for retirement, paying taxes. People have been doing this for thousands of years—it’s as old as the first book of the Bible, where Abraham invests in a block of land in Canaan, and where Jacob’s sons go to Egypt with money for grain.

Christians too, get involved in owning this and buying that—we can’t escape it. But even as we take part in our society’s systems of banking and investments and home loans, we take a different perspective. All because we belong to Christ! Think of Lord’s Day 1: “I am not my own, but belong in life and death, with body and soul, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Belonging to Christ needs to transform every aspect of our life. Not just spiritually, but also physically and materially—and financially. “If we live, we live to the Lord” (Rom 14:8). So while our society is bent on pursuing material things, here too, we’re followers of Christ, and we have to show that. For you’ve been purchased at a great price—his precious blood.

Being owned by Christ, we won’t look at our material goods as our own but see them as gifts from God. We won’t get caught up in the race to build personal wealth, but we’ll seek true riches. We won’t mind to part with what we’ve earned, but be eager to share it with others. I preach God’s Word as it’s summarized in Lord’s Day 42 under this theme and points:

Owned by Christ, we own earthly things and we learn:

                        1) to be content

                        2) to give freely

                        3) to seek true wealth

 

1) we learn to be content: The eighth commandment belongs to the second half of God’s law, all about “what duties I owe my neighbor.” So the main focus here is on how we treat the stuff of people around us: don’t steal from them, but be generous, and try to help them. And yet the basis of all the commandments—the eighth commandment too—is still our daily walk with God. That’s where everything begins. Only when our relationship with the Lord is right will we be prepared to treat our neighbour with grace.

So when we speak about money and possessions, we need to back up all the way to God as the Giver of all things. When we earn our salary for the next fortnight, or buy that new phone, we should start with the simple confession that it’s the Lord God who owns all things. It says in Haggai 2:8, “‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” Let’s humbly acknowledge—again and again—that God owns whatever we have. ‘The money is mine and the house is mine,’ declares the LORD, ‘and so is your car.’

Part of this is recognizing that God gives material things in different measures. It’s obvious to see that some people have received more from God, others less. And here we might say that such differences arise because of a person’s hard work and skill: “He does very well for himself.” It’s him that does it! Or some wealth results from being in the right place at the right time, having the opportunity to invest something really good. Somebody else has rich parents who’ve been willing to share a lot with their kids. Whatever the scenario, Scripture teaches that these material things are from God’s hand alone.

In different degrees we’ve been blessed. Yet all have received. And that makes each of us stewards for our Master in heaven, and He calls us to take care of whatever He’s entrusted. When we look at our home, our clothes, our retirement fund, our confession must be: “My name might be on the ownership papers, and I see my name on the account profile, but it all belongs to God. It’s mine to manage, so I can put it to work for his kingdom.”

So even when we go to the office tomorrow, or attend school, we’re working for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23). Our first aim is not please people with our labour—not to please your English teacher, firstly, or your manager, or your colleagues— but to please Christ.

That gives a real sense of purpose to our work, having the mindset that we work for him. It also gives a sense of peace. Because God promises that He’ll always provide for us who are his children and his servants. We work hard to earn our money, we said, so that we can pay for university or so that our wife can make another expensive trip to Costco. But we have to see that all these daily things are in God’s hand, who is generous to provide our daily bread, our shelter, and whatever else.

Listen to what Jesus taught in Luke 12. It’s in the same section as his warning against greed and the endless piling up earthly things. He says: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing” (vv 22-23). Don’t let the constant pursuit of more consume you. For this is the truth: “Your Father knows that you need these things” (v 30). It’s his ‘providing promise,’ true and certain. I love how Psalm 37:25 puts it, “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken.”

When we rest on this promise of God, our attitude toward material things like goods and money is slowly transformed. We are content. We don’t try to get ahead simply for the sake of being on the top rung of the ladder, having more than the next guy. We refuse to be possessed by our possessions, where we are defined by the clothes we wear or by the car we drive. We are defined by Christ!

And because we trust in God, we’re content to serve him. For we know the Lord will give his servants whatever we need for this life. Contentment is this state of accepting what one has received from God, with the assurance that it will be enough.

And if we’re not content before God, what happens to us? Lord’s Day 42 explains how it is discontentment that leads people to break the eighth commandment. If you don’t like how much money you have right now, you might commit “theft and robbery” (Q&A 110), grabbing some more, and on your own terms. Or if you’re eager to get rich, you might invent “wicked schemes and devices” to defraud your neighbour and benefit yourself (Q&A 110).

Or maybe not. When we read this Lord’s Day, it can seem far removed from our lives. Have you ever been tempted to steal through using a “false weight and measure”? Maybe you have, but it seems unlikely. Or is “deceptive merchandising” on your conscience, or are you uncomfortable when the Catechism mentions “counterfeit money, or usury,” because you’ve broken the eighth commandment in these ways? Perhaps not.

But the point is that with our discontented hearts, there will always be creative ways that we try to steal. We might have a business where we do a lot of transactions “under the table” and we’re dishonest when reporting to the tax department. Or we find ways to abuse our expense account at work. Or at school, we claim someone else’s work as our own.

And apart from any act of theft, we break this commandment with our attitude. We break it by always hungering for more and more: more money, more clothes, more holidays, more stuff in the garage. When you think about what you have today, and what you’d still love to acquire, would you say that you’re content? Or are you somewhat dissatisfied with what you’ve received, because it’s not quite enough, not to your liking?

The parable of the rich fool in Luke 12 is a realistic picture of how greed works. Here was a man whom God had blessed with abundant crops. And it’s not a sin to have a good year on the farm or in business. It’s not even a sin to build a bigger barn, or to open a new savings account. But there is sin when we look at our barns, and our investments and savings, and we hold onto them like they’re our true security. The rich man lies to himself, and his lie is the same that we might tell ourselves today: “Once I have this, then I’ll be content. Just a little more, then I’ll really enjoy it.” Maybe we’ve said the same thing. But it’s often a never-ending pursuit.

Notice how just before telling this parable, the Lord is asked to help settle a dispute over an inheritance. Basically, these two brothers are fighting over money. And Jesus warns, “Take heed and beware of covetousness” (12:15). Don’t let your life become wrapped up in always accumulating more stuff, to the point that you even hurt the people around you. Jesus’s message for the man is, ‘Don’t be a fool like the rich fool.’

We really need to hear those words, living in this prosperous time and prosperous state. After another good year of business, we find ourselves echoing the rich fool, “I have plenty of good things laid up for many years.” And at first, that can even sound like contentment. But it’s not. Contentment that depends on us attaining a certain level of human comfort, achieving a comfortable lifestyle, is not true contentment. Contentment is gratefully accepting whatever we have received from God’s hand—having confidence that his goodness will be enough.

Scripture teaches true contentment through the words of Paul in Philippians 4, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things, I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (vv 11-13).

Such is the beauty of contentment. It’s an attitude that can only spring from seeing our life—and everything that fills it—as sourced from the hand of God. We acknowledge that God understands far better than we do the blessings that we need to keep going. We can trust that the Father knows, and for Jesus’ sake, He helps.

That is why Paul says, ‘I can do this—I can be content—through Christ who strengthens me.’ For Jesus’s sake, God will never withhold from you what is truly good, or what is truly needed. Even if you don’t have much, even if you have a lot but still face great difficulties, the Father will take care of you in every way. If we know that, we learn to be content, and…

 

2) we learn to give freely: As with all the commandments, for the eighth there’s a negative and a positive side. God forbids, but God also requires. God forbids that we defraud our neighbour in any way, and He commands that we “promote [our] neighbour’s good” (Q&A 111).

It’s an age-old question, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus was asked the same thing, gave a powerful answer in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, yet we still forget. Jesus taught us that your neighbour is the person with whom you come into contact during the life, those people whom God places on the path. So that’s not only the people in your family. It’s not only the people in your church. But it’s whomever we encounter in the daily comings and goings of life.

“Promote your neighbour’s good.” This means helping another person physically in the ways that we are able. For remember this truth: whatever we own isn’t really ours, but God’s. This money isn’t mine, and neither is this house, nor these talents. These are God’s things, so shouldn’t I use them as God directs? I should, and that means showing material kindness and genuine love and true generosity.

When we talk about giving like this, our problem is often that we think too big. In other words, for a gift to really count, it has to be notable, it has to be significant, even something that gets official recognition. Twenty dollars from your pocket is hardly enough. Dropping off a meal barely counts. We think about the kind of giving that gets you a tax receipt or gets your name on a donor list.

But Christian generosity is often much simpler. Think of the widow at the temple, giving her last two copper coins. Or the good Samaritan, dressing the wounds of his neighbour. Think of Jesus, encouraging us to give a cup of cold water to a person in need. It can be small, if it is sincere. Lending someone a tool that they need. Tutoring a classmate before a test. Making a batch of biscuits for someone, or a good meal. Giving someone a ride in your car. Volunteering your time. It is using whatever gift you have received from God for the good of others, and doing this “wherever I can and may” (Q&A 111).    

This calling gives a higher purpose to our daily work. For we spoke earlier about all the effort involved in working. Our daily job can feel pointless: there’s a lot of stress and fatigue every week, and for what? To pay bills that will show up again next month too.

Ecclesiastes 5 says a lot too, about this futility of work and wages. And it’s pretty bleak. I think that if you read Ecclesiastes 5 tomorrow morning, you probably won’t feel like going to work at all! For the chapter says things like this, “[A person] shall take nothing from his labour which he may carry in his hand” (5:15). What’s the point of working, if it’s all going to come to nothing anyway?

Or Ecclesiastes says this: “This is also a severe evil—just exactly as [a person] came, so shall he go. And what profit has he who has laboured for the wind?” (5:16). There’s not a lot of encouragement there for you to stay in school or keep your job!

But keep in mind the context of the book. Solomon is assessing life under the sun. And he sees that even the most prosperous life, the most successful career, the most pleasure-filled existence, is pointless without God. And Solomon should know. He was a man who had great possessions and pleasures, yet all of it was utterly useless on its own.

That’s an important lesson. It’s such a waste for you to have a big heap of material things, but to put it to no good use besides your own pleasure. It’s meaningless when we have money, but we don’t put it to any godly purpose. Instead, God says that our possessions can have eternal meaning, when our possessions are treated as opportunities to build the church and to help other people.

Seeing us dealing with all the sweat and thorns of labour, God gives a higher calling. As the Catechism says, “Work faithfully so that [we] may be able to give to those in need” (Q&A 111). Earn money, so you can help others. Get an education, so you have more to contribute toward mission, or to help the needy. I wonder how often we think about that as a motivation for our work? If I work smart, if I plan wisely, if I am diligent, then I’ll be able to help others. Do we think about that? Or is our planning and working and investing about meeting our own goals?

Returning to Luke 12, we see that the rich fool certainly worked hard. He planted, he harvested, he planned new barns. Yet he had a selfish outlook. And in his wealth, he even had to ask himself, “What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” (12:17). For a child of God, that should be one of the last questions we ask. If we’re walking with the Lord, and his Spirit has opened our eyes to the needs around us, the question, “What shall I do?” will always find a ready answer. Those who belong to Christ won’t ask “What shall I do?” But we ask, “How much can I do? Where are the places that I can give?”

Of course, we still want to give wisely. We want to give in a way that truly helps people and doesn’t make them dependent. It’s good to think about these things. But we shouldn’t think about them so long that we miss our chance to give and to help. Give freely and generously. For that’s what Christ would have us to. That’s what He did: He gave freely. He poured himself out, and looked to the interests of others ahead of his own. Now He teaches us to do the same: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt 10:8).

 

3) we learn to seek true wealth: The Bible is realistic about possessions. For instance, Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver.” How true this is! Greed is an animal that is never satisfied. The day that you pay off your home loan, you’re already thinking of how you can start growing your wealth a little more. Again, it’s so true to our experience when Ecclesiastes says, “The abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep” (5:12). With increased wealth comes increased worry.

But there is hope in Ecclesiastes 5. In the first place, it tells us to enjoy the things that God gives us in this life. Enjoy your work! Enjoy your rest! Enjoy the things you have accomplished! As Solomon says, “It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him” (v 28). See how he puts the enjoyment of possessions in the context of serving God. If we see that it is God who has given us so much, then our enjoyment can be real. We enjoy God’s gifts, and we thank him for them.

At the same time, God reminds us that the things of this life are only temporary. There is no sense growing attached to what you own. Recall what God said to the rich man, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you” (Luke 12:20). What if God came to you, like He came to the rich fool, and God demanded your life? In that moment, where would your treasure be? What do you have to show by way of service to God?

We are foolish if we’re so occupied with our money, our work, our coming retirement, our hobbies—that we neglect the things of the life to come. So we need to hear Jesus’s words in Luke 12: “Life does not consist in the abundance of the things [you] possess!” Earthly things won’t give you meaning.

That’s not the definition of the good life, Jesus says, having a garage full of stuff and bulging bank accounts. But the good life is walking with God, trusting him, and doing the will of Christ our Saviour. That is true wealth, wealth worth seeking.

For in Christ, we become rich beyond imagination, for we receive the gifts of forgiveness and new life. Listen to what Paul writes, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Through Christ’s poverty, you have all become rich! By his death, you’re already so wealthy—you already have everything you need!

Owned by Christ, let us own all our earthly things in a different way. Diligently do your work tomorrow, be content with what you have, and help others. Remember that you are owned, body and soul, by our gracious Saviour—knowing that you were bought not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of the Lamb! That is true wealth: wealth worth seeking.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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