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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 Gospel guides us to be the righteous rich
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 2:1-3
Hymn 1A
Psalm 37:1,9,10
Psalm 37:11,12,16
Psalm 112 (after offertory)
Psalm 93

Readings:  Genesis 41:41-57, 1 Timothy 6:3-21
* 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,


“It is night, in a dark sleepy slum. This conglomeration of shanties, was once a heavily populated Third World "suburbia", characterised by sub-standard housing, squalor, poverty, noise and bubbling night-life. On this particular night, the town is a ghost of its former self. The town goes to bed early these days. Many of those whom a few years ago kept the joyful social vigils characteristic of African night-life -- the young men and women that gave the place its vivacity, flavour and glamour – they are now asleep. They are really sleeping in peace, in the various improvised graveyards across the town. They are dead. They are victims of a strange illness that swept across almost all the families inhabiting this stretch. They are dead of AIDS-related causes. And by the looks of things, many more would be joining them soon.

The girl was conceived in extreme poverty. She was born and baptised with hunger and deprivations. Now she has been forced into taking care of her two younger siblings, maternal responsibilities which she is ill-equipped to shoulder. Her childhood has been stolen and embezzled by the disease that ravaged her family and placed such a heavy, unsupportable burden on her weak shoulders. She has no name. Insignificance is her name. Her story does not make the headlines. She is simply a statistic in some database. She has been roped into an unbreakable cycle of poverty that has compromised her childhood and mortgaged her future. With her childhood dropping off the horizon, she is an adult already at an age when her peers elsewhere are still enjoying the patronage of parents and the privileges of childhood.”


That sad eyewitness account comes from someone living in Africa.  The poverty and devastation there is mind-boggling and it’s easy to forget when you don’t have to face it everyday.  We can live our comfortable lives forgetting that the life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 26.  In Niger it is 29, the same as in Malawi.  In Zambia, it goes up to a mere 30 years.  And this affects the economic situation as well.  Much of Africa lives and dies on less than a dollar a day.


We could go on and on about Africa, but poverty exists in our own country as well.  And we don’t have to look very far.  Some of the homeless in our country choose to live this way but others have fallen between the cracks – many struggle with mental health issues.


And then there’s us.  We are fabulously wealthy.  Many of us are doing well for ourselves and our families.  We talk about a lot of dollars on Christmas.  We spend a lot on our summer vacations and winter cruises.  Most of our families have not just one, but two or even more vehicles.  I could go on.  Even if some of us struggle financially, let’s be honest:  even the poorest family in this church is incredibly wealthy by African standards.  Even if we were to descend into poverty, there are numerous safety nets for us and our families, including the help available from the church community.  Loved ones, we are rich.


The 8th commandment addresses us in our richness.  There’s the negative side of the commandment, forbidding us to commit theft and robbery.  We’re taught to avoid wicked things like deceptive merchandising, excessive interest and fraud..  We also know that this commandment addresses what lives in our hearts.  It tells us that God forbids greed and the abuse or squandering of his gifts.  We find all that in the first QA of the Catechism. 


But then there’s a second QA which focuses on the positive:  “What does God require of you in this commandment?”   We confess that we are required to promote the good of our neighbours, do unto others as we would have them do to us, and then also “work faithfully so that we may be able to give to those in need.”  It’s that last phrase that we’re going to hone in on.  We’ve already noted that we are rich.  We’re going to see that the gospel introduces us to another adjective that needs to be added:  righteous.  The gospel guides us to be the righteous rich. 


Let’s first look at the shadows of the righteous rich in the Old Testament.  In Genesis already we see wealthy individuals who use their wealth for the kingdom of God.  In Genesis 13:2, we read that Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.  In fact, this is the first time that wealth is mentioned in the Bible and here it is connected with the blessing of God.  In Genesis 12, God promised to bless Abram and make him a blessing for others.  Abram’s wealth was not an end in itself, rather it existed to serve the needs of others.


A similar pattern emerges with Joseph towards the end of Genesis.  Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt but through a number of providential circumstances, he emerges as the second most powerful figure in the land.  With his power comes access to riches and wealth.  He uses his riches and power for the good of the people around him, not only for the Egyptians, but also for the surrounding nations.  And when his own family comes looking for help, he also extends it to them.  Later in Genesis 47, we read that Joseph generously provided his fathers and brothers and their families with food.  After Jacob their father died, Joseph reassured them in Genesis 50 that he would continue to provide for them out of the means available to him.  He clearly tried to use his riches and power in a righteous way for the good of others.


With Joseph, we see a man who endured great sufferings and hardships.  He went through trials and eventually came through and received glory and honour.  The riches he received he used for the good of those around him.  His wealth and power were not an end in themselves, but existed to bless others.  Do you see the shadow of our Saviour here?  There’s a familiar pattern.


Still with the Old Testament, we could consider Boaz as well.  He’s described in Ruth as being a man of standing, a man of some substance in his community.  He is certainly wealthy when compared with Ruth and Naomi.  He has land, servants, abundant harvests and shekels to spare.  The Bible doesn’t specifically use the word “righteous” to describe Boaz, but everything fits.  God’s law had particular concern for the alien and the widow.  So did Boaz.   Boaz acts with faithfulness towards his late relative Elimelech by redeeming the land of Naomi and marrying Ruth.  He becomes the kinsman-redeemer and in this he shows a righteous heart.  He stands in contrast to the other nameless relative who refuses to be the kinsman redeemer because he’s so concerned about spoiling his own inheritance.  Boaz is the righteous rich, a man who uses his wealth and power to redeem others.  Here again, we see a shadow of the gospel of our Saviour. 


So, there are a number of positive examples of righteous richness in the Old Testament.  However, there are also a good number of negative pictures as well, especially in the prophets.  As one example, in chapter 22 of his prophecy Jeremiah contrasts the behaviour of the good King Josiah with his evil son Jehoiakim.  Josiah had defended the cause of the poor and needy.  He was wealthy and he used his riches for the good of his people.  Jehoiakim, on the other hand, had his eyes and heart set on dishonest gain.  He shed innocent blood and oppressed the people and practiced extortion.  Jeremiah prophesied that this Mafia king would have the burial of a donkey.  It’s recorded in Scripture so that God’s people would hear that warning and learn and follow a different way. 


It is the gospel which leads us to be the righteous rich.  As we turn to the New Testament, we come out of the shadows and see a Saviour revealed.  The Son of God laid his glories aside and took on our human flesh and lived among us.  In 2 Corinthians 8:9, we read these words about our Saviour, “For 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.”  Jesus Christ is the truly righteous rich!  Philippians 2 gives us the same picture of our Saviour, a Saviour who emptied himself of all his riches and majesty so as to save us, to save you.  Yes, it’s true that before the incarnation he didn’t have gold and silver and all kinds of earthly possessions.  He had something far better:  equality with God.  He shared God’s glory, power, and majesty.  He was rich in a way that we can hardly comprehend.  We have these human minds that are so attuned to earthly and perishable things.  But Christ was rich in a far more significant way.  And he gave it up so as to save us from the wrath of God against our sins, also for all the times that we have been unrighteous and all the times that we have broken the eighth commandment in whatever way. 


Here too we can think of what Paul says in Ephesians 3:8, that God’s grace was given to him so that he could “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”  Those riches include Christ’s personal obedience to the eighth commandment.  He never failed and never fails in using his wealth for the good of those around him.  And according to Romans 4:24, God credits that righteousness of Christ to us.  All his perfect obedience is ours and so we are right with God and we have a heavenly Father who loves us deeply. 


And when Christ rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven, all his riches were there for him to take up once again.  He again shone in his glory.  And the good news of the gospel is that today, he uses all his riches, all his might and power, his equality with God, all his obedience, all his suffering – he uses it all for your benefit!  He is rich and he is righteous!  And so you too, even apart from whatever material possessions you may have, through union with him, you are also righteous before God.  By your faith, you are rich in a way that should stun you.  A healthy bank balance can’t compare to what you have in Jesus Christ and who you are in him.  


And it’s union with him that leads you forward to be the righteous rich in this life with your money and material possessions.  A moment ago, I mentioned 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For 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.”  Do you know what the context there is?  It’s Paul encouraging the Corinthians to be generous in supporting the poorer brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.  He writes about the Macedonian churches and how they contributed so much, even though they themselves were not that well off.  And then he uses these words about Christ to stir up the Corinthians too.  He says, “Look to our Saviour!  Look at how rich you are with the gospel of Jesus Christ!  Let the gospel guide you to generosity and righteousness.” And what will result from all that?  Paul lays that out in verses 12-13 of 2 Corinthians 9, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.”  Did you hear that?  “Men will praise God!”  Men will thank God!  Isn’t that what we want?  


This is where it’s important to remember that the Catechism deals with the eighth commandment under the heading of our thankfulness.  What are we thankful for?  The gospel of Christ!  The good news that we are saved by grace alone.  The gospel leads us to a life of sanctification also in connection with what we do with our earthly goods and our money.


This is especially challenging for those who have been so richly blessed.  Here we can find a parallel in the New Testament with the church at Ephesus.  Ephesus was the Alberta of the Roman Empire.  It was the leading city of the richest region; it was the most prosperous commercial center of its age.  In Acts 19, we read about the ministry of Paul in Ephesus.  Because of the preaching of the gospel, practitioners of the occult burned their books.  We might read over that quickly, but remember that books in that time were not cheap.  And we’re told that the books burned were worth over 50,000 pieces of silver.  In Acts 20:33, when Paul is saying farewell to the Ephesian elders he implies that there was a lot of wealth in that Ephesian congregation when he says that he coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.  From his letter to the Ephesians, we learn that not everyone in the Ephesian congregation was well-off. There are instructions for slaves just as well as for masters. 


Paul’s letter to Timothy fits in with this context.  You see, Timothy was the first real pastor of the Ephesian congregation, and Paul’s letter comes to him as he is doing his pastoral work in Ephesus.  Paul first instructs Timothy about the dangers of wealth.  He warns against the desire to be rich – we need that warning too!  If you want to be rich and have it all, you’ll fall into temptation.  You will be plunged into foolish and harmful desires that will ruin you and destroy you.  The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  The world around us encourages the desire to be rich – think only of how lotteries advertise.  The Word of God tells us that the desire is dangerous.  It’s snake-think.  Instead, “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  When you are happy with what God has given you, that’s a sort of richness the world doesn’t know and can’t appreciate.


So, on the one hand, there is a warning against greed, covetousness and the desire to be wealthy in material things.  But on the other hand, Paul recognizes that there are those who are rich in this present world.  There were those who fit that description in Ephesus and I think it’s fair to say that Paul’s words here apply equally and directly to us.  Do you want to know exactly what it means to be the righteous rich as people of God today?  Listen to what Paul says here at the end of 1 Timothy. 


First of all, we’re not to be arrogant.  We are not to be proud and haughty just because we have so much money and material wealth.  Over and over, the Bible warns against pride and here the Holy Spirit warns against pride in those who are wealthy.  There is obviously a reason for that because material wealth does bring with it the temptation to be prideful, to look down on others because they don’t share our social status and our values.  The Word says in Romans 12:4, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  And in Romans 12:16, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.”          


Second, being the righteous rich means that we do not put our hope in wealth which is uncertain, but instead in God who gives us everything for our enjoyment.  It is not a sin to be wealthy.  It is not a sin to be richly blessed with material things and to enjoy those things.  Unbelief, however, is sin.  Idolatry is also sin.  When we place our hope in our wealth, that is unbelief and idolatry.  We are to trust in God, the one who has so richly blessed us.  The righteous rich put their faith where it belongs. 


Third, the righteous rich are rich in good deeds.  They not only have an abundance of money and material things, they also have a heart that overflows for those who do not share their blessings.  They are generous and willing to share.  They work hard so that they can give to those who are in need, both inside and outside the church community.  When it comes to charity, they err on the side of generosity.  Nowhere in the Bible do we ever read, “Let no one take advantage of and abuse your generosity.”  Yes, we have to be good stewards of what we have received, but stinginess and cold-heartedness are never commended. 


From elsewhere in Scripture, we glean even more insights into what the righteous rich look like.  For instance, they always remember that the source and true ownership of their riches is with God himself.  The righteous rich would never rob God by holding back their contributions to the church or by merely giving God the left-overs.  They know that it is the first fruits which are to go directly back to him.  They recognize that wealth is secondary to many things, including wisdom, but especially to personal integrity, humility and righteousness.  The righteous rich recognize that being materially blessed is not a privilege or a right, but a responsibility.  They endeavour to use their wealth with and for justice; for instance, they refuse to use their wealth for corrupt ends.  Finally, they set an example by limiting their personal consumption. 


Brothers and sisters, there is a lot more that could be said on this matter.  We could go through numerous practical examples of how to be the righteous rich.  We could talk about child sponsorship, about sponsoring refugee families, about supporting various charitable organizations, about getting involved in a hands-on way through relief and development trips.  What I wanted to do was give you the principles and equip you for thinking about how to put those principles in practice.  We have a special resource in our church dedicated to helping you to be the righteous rich.  Our church has a number of men who are responsible for the good progress of the service of charity.  They are called deacons.  Sometimes people have the idea that the work of the deacons is mainly to put out fires of financial crisis.  But their work is broader; it includes equipping the congregation for works of service and for concrete demonstrations of compassion, mercy and justice.  If you have a question about how to be the righteous rich, I would encourage you to approach one of the deacons for their guidance and assistance.  I’m sure that they would be happy to help.


Beloved, we are rich with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have also been given much in the way of material things and money.  That may not be good for us.  Remember the words of Christ about the camel going through the eye of the needle.  But it does not have to be that way.  He did say that it was impossible – for men.  He went on to say that all things are possible with God.  Looking to our Saviour in faith, letting his gospel and his Spirit guide us, we can be rich and righteous.  God can make it happen.  Let’s now pray for his help in that.     


Our heavenly Father,


Through Jesus Christ our Lord, you have made us so rich in what really matters.  We thank you for the life that is truly life, the life we have through him.  We are grateful for the gospel.  We pray that we would have more grace so that the gospel would continue to transform and shape our lives.  Lead us with your Holy Spirit so that we who are rich in this present age would not be arrogant.  Teach us with your Word so that we would never hope in wealth, but only in you.  Help us, O God, to do good, to be generous and to be willing to share.  We pray for those who are in desperate need and who live in true poverty whether in less developed countries or in our own nation.  We pray, Father, that they would receive help and that they would experience your mercy.  We also pray for those among us who do have financial stresses and worries.  Please help them also to place their trust in you, that you would show yourself to be their faithful God and Father, that you would lead them through their trials.  Father, please hear us in the name of the One who became poor for our sakes, Jesus Christ, 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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