January 26-28, 2013
3rd Weekend after Ephiphany
Pastor Don Sutton
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Chapter 13 is the closing chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews and like other closing chapters of some New Testament letters it can be said that “it contains everything but the kitchen sink” when it comes to the sanctified lives of Christians – “Love one another. Welcome strangers. Remember those in prison. Honor marriage. Remember your leaders. Watch out for false teachers. Praise Jesus as your High Priest and through him praise God. Share with one another. Obey your leaders. Pray. Find power in God’s peace.”
Right in the middle of all this is our text that I some up in this way, “DON’T LOVE MONEY, BUT BE CONTENT.” Now if I do an “alliterative partectomy,” as I am often inclined to do, I see the Lord giving us …a prohibition …a prescription …and … a promise.
A principle we need to be clear on is everything and everyone belongs to God. The Psalmist wrote, “The earth is the Lords and everything in it (Ps 24:1).” The things we have an call our own are loans from the Lord that he gives us to first of all 1) to give – to him to show he is our priority, to our family to care for them, and to others who are in need; secondly,, 2) to save for as God says in Proverbs, “Go to the ant, you sluggard and consider its ways; it has no commander, no overseer or no ruler, yet it stores it possessions in summer and gathers it food at harvest (6:6)”; thirdly, 3) to pay debt – “If you own debt pay debt (Rom 12)”; and finally, 4) to spend for our enjoyment for St. Paul described God as “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1 Tim. 6:17).”
While God gives us material things to manage well and use wisely, he does not want us to love or worship money or material things. “Keep yourselves free from the Lord of money…”
“No problem,” we say. “I am a Christian and I would never love money. That’s idolatry!” But consider to whom God is sending this letter – Jewish CHIRSTIANS. If God gives this prohibition there must be the possibility that a Christian might be tempted to love money and material things. I suspect that when it happens among Christians while it could happen suddenly and dramatically, it most likely happens so subtly that we don’t even realize it.
Let me give you some examples. Age wise I am now somewhat closer to 100 than I am to 1. This means that someday in the not-too-distant future, I may want to retire. So the question comes up, “How are ‘me and the Missus’ going to support ourselves?” There’s Social Security and Medicare …maybe. There’s a modest WELS pension. So we’re faithfully setting aside significant amounts of savings to make up for all the years we were raising kids and sending them to school. But the concern comes up, “Will we have enough?” So I wonder about how our savings are doing. When the stock market goes up, I like the gains I see. When it goes down, I lament the losses I feel. It’s real easy to cross a line from laying aside the dollars to loving them.
A lot of families probably wish they had more money because it seems like incomes do not always meet expenses. The distance from wishing for more dollars to loving them is not great. Many students probably wish they had more money to cover tuition, debts and other costs. Farmers and business people look at their profit-to- debt ratio and may wish the same. In every case there’s a fine line between seeing the need for more money and falling in love with it. Or, we look at others around us and see what we have, so in jealousy we yearn for more and for the money to make it happen, and the love of money can easily sneak in. With those who have it, the danger is that they start to fear losing it and love it, or seeing the power and possessions money can bring, so they love it.
So God says, “Don’t go there!” But we have, haven’t we, more than we realize? When we do, we sin.
Why does God give us such a prohibition? First of all, God is not glorified as the First Commandment reminds us. Jesus put it this way, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot love God and money (Matt 6).” Then there is the fact that those who love money never have enough – “Whoever loves money never has money enough, whoever loves income is never satisfied with his income (Eccl. 5:10).” There is also the trouble that the love of money causes. Paul wrote, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap, and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into destruction and ruin (1 Tim 6).” This ruin may be loss of health, loss of freedom, loss of family, loss faith and loss of forever with Jesus. The final reason for God’s telling us to not love money and material things is their fleeting nature – they are treasures that moth and rust destroy and that thieves can break in and steal (Matt 6).
So God, out of zeal to be the only God in our lives and love that does not want to see us lost God gives us this prohibition, “Don’t love money!”
From the prohibition the Lord takes us to a prescription. In health a prescription is a remedy that the doctor prescribes and a pharmacist provides. God prescribes, “Be content with what you have.” To be content is to be satisfied. It’s having the attitude, “I have enough.” It’s being content to be content.
The Lord emphasizes this same thing elsewhere in the Bible, “Better a little with the fear of God than great wealth with turmoil (Prov. 15:16).” In 1 Timothy 6 Paul wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” In other words, having the godliness and love of God that come to us from Jesus through faith in him, we know that God cares for us so we can be content. So Paul continued, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” So if we have the basics in life – food, clothes, and a place to live – we have reason to be content. (If you don’t, then please tell us and we will help you.)
However, the problem is that contentment is not part of human DNA. But discontent, greed, envy, jealousy and covetousness are.
So how do we get contentment? Do some soul-searching – “Do I love money? Am I dissatisfied with my standard of living? Do I desire more?” If we can answer “Yes” then we have a problem – a sin problem. Acknowledge it. Confess it to God. Turn from it. Leave it behind. Then turn to the grace, the undeserved love of God.
Just a few verses later in Hebrews 13 God says, “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever… (v. 20, 21).” What God prescribes – contentment – he produces with the power of his peace Jesus. Jesus removed the cruse of our sin with his suffering and death, and provided the holiness we need to be at peace with God. When we focus on this love of God and what it means – God loved me so much he gave his son, gave himself to save me, living, dying and rising again for my forgiveness and eternal life – it gives power to cope with the trials of life and to be content. We know God loves us, has forgiven us, is with us and provides for us in the way and amount that’s best.
St. Paul wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Phil. 4).”
So this love of God leaves me to conclude, “If he so loves me, will he not care for me? Does he not know the level of blessing best for me? Does he not set the standard of living best suited for me?” Such conclusions bring contentment. So God prescribes and provides contentment.
What he prescribes and provides, he reinforces with his promises in our text.
The first is God’s promise, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” In the English there is the repetition of “never.” However in Greek this verse basically has this pattern – “not …not …nor …not… not.” God is giving extra emphasis to his promise not to leave.
This was a promise made originally to Joshua when he was about to succeed Moses as the human leader of the nation of Israel – 600,000 fighting men plus elderly men, women and children – several million total. God promised to be with and bless Joshua. He promises the same to you – “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” God also applies this to the Jewish Christians. But it applies to us too.
The second promise is a quote from Psalm 118, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” This was a thanksgiving hymn that the Israelites said and sang to the Lord out of thanks for his delivering them whether from the Egyptians and other enemies, or in view of David’s victories over enemies, or the return from exile and rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem’s city walls. With God on their side, they could be confident and content. The same is true for us.
Doesn’t this remind you of those words of Palm 121, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth?”
When needs arise and troubles come, God may be testing us – “Will they turn to me? Will they trust me? Will they pray to me?” But with the power and promises of God behind us, be confident. Don’t love money but be content with what you have. Be content to be content. Amen.