Till Debt Do Us PartErwin W. Lutzer | June 2, 2013
Selected highlights from this sermon
Financial troubles plague families. Seeking to live beyond our means and giving in to the marketing of our culture, many homes are overextended and weighed down by debt.
We need to reorient our perspective about money and realize that everything is God’s! Financial decisions are spiritual decisions, and too often, we trust in credit rather than God. Worse yet, we can be deceived into thinking we don’t need to work hard, falling for get-rich-quick schemes and casinos. Instead, let us be content with the basics, and be generous with what God has given us.
My topic today is Till Debt Do Us Part. According to a Gallup Poll, about 50% of all divorces happen because of money issues – usually because of debt. I am going to take the time to read two letters that came to me. You can look over my shoulder. These came to me from different parts of the country.
“Several years ago I left a very successful job to open my own business. Unfortunately, due to 9/11 and other reasons my business failed after five years. I lost about $200,000, which was my family’s savings. My wife has never forgiven me for being so irresponsible. I have lived with this guilt and shame for years and the money we’ve lost is a constant issue in our marriage. I can’t trust God to help me because I suspect I made these decisions without consulting Him. Every day I am depressed over it, so do I just have to live the rest of my life reliving this failure?” By the way, he’s wrong. Even though he made those decisions unwisely, God is still available to help him.
Here’s another letter. “We’ve been married for 20 years. We have young children.” I’ll summarize here. “We fell into debt. I took a second job because I lost some of our money in what I thought was a solid investment. Even though we are making it financially she wants out of the marriage because she feels that I have neglected her emotionally, which I have because I took a second job trying to make up the extra money that I lost. She spends hours on the Internet and is corresponding with a man she dated before we were married. She’s helping him with his issues but I think I know how this is going to end. I feel helpless to stop it.” Till debt do us part!
I have to begin by saying that young couples, before they are married and they say I do, should solve the problem of their expectations regarding lifestyle and money issues because it is huge. It divides people and divides marriages. What we have to do is to overcome three myths in our culture, three ideas that we live with, especially those of us who live in the great United States of America.
The first myth is the great desire to live beyond our means, to live beyond our income. So young couples and others extend themselves. They say, “Yeah, it’s more house than we can really afford but it’ll work out somehow because we really like it.” So we have to overcome that.
We have to overcome the manipulation of the marketers. This past week somebody gave me a book on marketing and now they are studying neurology to see what it is that makes us buy things. The whole idea of surveys doesn’t work anymore because the experts say that what people say in surveys they do not carry out. Their behavior is different. I heard on the news that if you put on Facebook that you like Diet Coke, for example, the day will come when you will walk into a store and on your phone will flash “Diet Coke for Sale” for a certain amount of money. That’s what it’s coming to and we have to resist it.
Now I have today seven principles that are foundational to this whole money thing. And because we don’t have a lot of time what I need to do is to summarize them, but each of them is worthy of an entire message. But I want you to listen carefully. I have been praying that this message will keep a couple from divorce for example – a couple whose marriage is on the rocks, a couple that can’t talk about money because it’s one of those caught-button issues that they avoid. So without any more chitchat let’s get right into it immediately.
Principle number one is that God owns everything. Now I am going to ask you to turn to 1 Timothy 6. I am going to be quoting other verses but this is the one I shall refer to a number of times in this message. Paul is talking about false teachers and in the last part of verse 5 he says, “Imagine that godliness is a means to gain.” That’s a sermon in and of itself. The health and wealthers! Godliness is the means by which you get money especially if you support their ministries. That’s a separate story.
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world.” I’m going to stop there for just a moment. Whose was it before you were born? It belonged to God. The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. Whose is it when you die? Whose will it be? It will be God’s. You say, “But in between times it is mine because I earned it by the sweat of my own brow.” Or as some husbands say, “By the sweat of my own frau we earned the money.” You’ll have to think about that, some of you.
But the fact is the Bible says it is God who gives you the ability to get wealth. Who woke you up in the morning? Who gave you health and strength? Who enabled you to find a job? Who gave you the wisdom to earn the money that you did as you worked hard? It is God.
Now let me explain to you why this is so important. What this means practically is that every financial decision is therefore a spiritual decision. You see it’s not like some people think, “Well, we give 10% to the ministry of missionaries at Moody Church and then the rest is ours and we can do with it as we please.” No, you can’t because it belongs to God too. Now you can use it for yourself. You can pay bills. You have to live, but all of our financial decisions, as Larry Burkett used to say, are at root spiritual decisions. So all of this comes under the umbrella of the sovereign control and watchful eye of God. That’s lesson number one.
Lesson number two is simply that we have to keep in mind that money makes all of the same promises as God, and therefore it competes with God in our lives. Now your Bibles are open to 1 Timothy 6. Notice in verse 6 it says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” and now I’m going to skip to verse 9. We’ll be coming back to the other verses in just a moment about contentment.
It says in verse 9, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation.” I have to stop here for a moment. There is nothing wrong with bettering your living situation. There is nothing wrong with ambition to be able to earn money if it’s going to help your family and it’s going to free you up so that you can give money generously to other causes and people in need. The Bible does not condemn wise investments.
Some people live in poverty perpetually when if they would think about it they may have opportunity to better their situation. The Bible is not opposed to that. In fact, it would encourage it if we looked at other passages. But when Paul, here in verse 9, talks about those who desire to be rich, he’s speaking about those who look upon money in itself as power and as something that they want to attain to. Some of these people may be very stingy actually, and so they don’t look at it as an opportunity of generosity at all. Now notice Paul says, “They fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Do you love money more than you love God? Do you hear the voice of money more than you hear the voice of God? You see the number one reason that the rich fall into these temptations is that they have the opportunity to be able to sin in new and creative ways because they can finance their sins, for example. And not only that, the love of money has so come into their heart that they don’t really need God.
God says, “I am with you in sickness and in health,” and money says the same thing. It says, “I’m going to be with you during a good economy and I’m going to be with you in a bad economy. I am your security. I’ll be there when you are sick. I’ll be there when you are well. I’ll be there when you want entertainment and when you want to travel. I will be with you.” It competes with God. And the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
You know, when you talk about big money people just lose it. They become crazy. Have you noticed not all but many of the athletes that have earned millions and millions of dollars ending up in bankruptcy? It’s because big money does things to people. They sacrifice their families. They sacrifice their ethics. They sacrifice everything because of the love of money, so the Bible warns about that craving. There’s nothing wrong with money. We need it to live, but the craving to be rich is destructive.
There’s a third lesson and that is that the use of our wealth is a test brought into our lives by God to see where we should be slotted in the Kingdom. Not everyone in the Kingdom rules the same way. Jesus made this very clear. Just imagine that during the Thousand Year Kingdom all Christians will have a part reigning somewhere, but some will have more territory. Some will have greater and more wonderful responsibilities. Just like a chandelier, all of the bulbs give light to a room but there are some that are brighter than others.
Jesus told parables about money, several of them. In one of them He said that there were those who were given unequal amounts of money but at the time of reward they received the same reward because both were faithful or unfaithful, as the case may be, whether they had much or whether they had little.
And then Jesus gave another parable in which he said this remarkable thing. He said, “If you cannot be trusted with the unrighteous money….” I kind of like the King James Version that calls it filthy lucre. Who in the world thinks of money as filthy lucre? Go to Wall Street. Go to your bank. Talk to your neighbors. People say they don’t love money. No, but they date it and they enjoy it and think about it all the time. But Jesus said this. He said, “If you cannot be trusted with unrighteous money, how are you going to be entrusted with the true riches?”
I don’t know what the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ is going to be like but all Christians will appear there. And I can imagine (and this is kind of scary because I personally take this point of view) that not everyone is going to do well at the Judgment Seat, and that’s why I worry so much about myself. Some Christians think, “Oh, you know we’re all just going to get a pat on the hand and get in….” No, no, no, it’s very serious. It is the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. I assume that Jesus will show us our bank statements. He’ll show us our checkbooks, and on this basis He’ll say, “You know some of you are going to have greater responsibility in the Kingdom, and some of you a very limited responsibility because if you can’t be trusted with money, how am I going to trust you with the true riches?” It’s very sobering.
Well, there’s a fourth lesson, and that is that get rich quick schemes are deceitful. Avoid them. You know I wish I had time to speak about the lottery and gambling, but let me say this. It is one of the greatest deceptions that is perpetrated upon American people. On the south side here in Chicago there was a billboard that said Two Ways to Have A Better Life. One way was to get up early in the morning, work hard six days a week and come home late at night. The other way was to play the Lotto.
Even as we are gathered here today there are people who are using their money unwisely because of Lotto fever. And then you hear the ads that say, “Having a gambling problem? Call 301 blah blah blah.” Right? Why aren’t they as clear giving that? In fact that’s a phone number that should be given over and over again.
Folks, I could explain to you why this is a bad deal, but don’t go there. But I’m not only thinking of that. I’m thinking of a man whom I happen to know who went into their savings – their retirement fund, and used it because he did due diligence Online and didn’t tell his wife. Bad idea! And he was making an investment that he absolutely was certain was going to help them financially. Well, it’s an old story but he lost it all. The marriage held together thankfully because he did what everybody should do in that situation, namely confess it to his wife and figure out where to go from there. And thank God their marriage survived. But don’t fall into these get rich quick schemes no matter how much pressure and no matter how tight the place is that you are in financially. I wish I could say more about that. I have a friend who says he has made so many bad financial decisions that he’s convinced that if he were to buy a cemetery people would quit dying. (laughter)
We have to hurry to number five. The devil, dirt and debt are bedfellows. They are related to one another. You know the Bible tells us that we should owe no man anything. Now some of us do go into debt. For example, we have a mortgage because the whole idea in America is that if you buy a house it is an increasing investment. Now that’s been challenged during the days of the mortgage crisis but generally that’s true. But you think of all of the debt that is accumulated for items that depreciate. You know the Bible says this, and isn’t it accurate? Proverbs 22:7 says, “The borrower is the servant to the lender.” And some of you who live with creditors know what that is like. You become a servant to those who have lent you money. Debt is a terrible, terrible pit to fall into. And you think of all of the credit card debt that people have. It’s something like an average of $9,000, but that means that many people are way beyond the $9,000 because there are some people who pay off their credit cards at the end of every month, and so that takes into account the fact that there are those who are constantly going into debt. It’s a terrible, terrible pit.
Now I want to speak to you frankly about this because you know when Rebecca and I were first married we thought that some debt was okay. Whatever you needed you put on a credit card, and then later we discovered that we actually had to pay it off and at an amazing rate of interest. If you pay only the interest or just make the monthly payment it will take years and years and years to pay it off because of high interest rates.
There was a time when families looked at situations very differently, and you see what we’ve done is we’ve undercut God. Let me explain. There was a time when families would say, “You know, we need a new car. The old one is just absolutely broken down. It’s not running anymore and we need a better vehicle for our family. We don’t have any money for it, very little money, and we can’t go out and buy one, so let’s pray together and ask God to do a miracle and to give us a better car.” And they would cry up to the Lord. They would pray to God and say, “God, you know our need.” And somebody in church would see them and say, “You know, I have a car that I think you folks could use. I’d like to give it to you.” The whole family would rejoice in the fact that God answered prayer.
We don’t have that today. Now you can walk in to a car dealer and buy a car for zero percent interest and probably make the first payment within six months or a year. I don’t know exactly how all that works, but you don’t need to pray to God because whatever you want you can buy on credit.
Now there was a time when God led his people. The way in which God leads us is through poverty and through money or lack of it. For example, in Deuteronomy 8 God said to the Israelites something very interesting. He said, “You know, I led you in that wilderness, and there was no food but I provided manna and I provided clothing so that you might trust me.” You see, we don’t need that trust today. We have a credit card.
Some of you, quite frankly, should do some plastic surgery at this point. I can lend you some scissors. For those of you who are young people, you know, high school students going into college and accumulating college debt, I read that I think about a third of college students wish that they hadn’t gone to college because all that they graduated with was a lot of debt and oftentimes very poor jobs. You know that that there are alternatives out there. I’ve talked to Pastor Bob about that and he sent me some very good alternatives to counsel young people, but you see, the debt is absolutely overwhelming.
I’d like to leave a challenge with you. Don’t accumulate new debt. Now that might not always be possible but make it a bottom, bottom line that from today on we trust God. We are in a hole or we are in a pit maybe of our own making, but we trust God. And see, as you cry up to Him, whether or not he shows up and helps you so that you are not overwhelmed by continual debt. That is incredibly important.
Number six is contentment. Now we’re looking at this passage of Scripture and this is what it says in verse 6. “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world, but if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
Of course, Paul doesn’t mean only food and clothing. If you live in the state of Illinois, for example, or any other northern state you’re going to need a house. You’re going to need some heating oil. You’re going to need a place to stay, but what Paul is saying is that if we have the basics we should be content. Our problem is we aren’t content. We aren’t content, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s okay to better your position and so forth, but at the end of the day we look at ourselves and we think that we have to be like our parents, or our grandparents, or the neighbors or whatever.
I was in a home one time where the people were poor. I’m talking about dirt poor with no rugs on the floor and just the basics of life. And you know, there was so much joy in that family. There was so much happiness because they understood “having food and raiment therein we shall be content.”
I hope I am wrong but I believe that the day is going to come to the United States of America when God is going to humble us and bring us down to the level of people in other countries. I’ve been in countries of the world where little children come begging, pulling on your pant leg for a handout, children that are hungry, children who probably have nowhere to lay their head at night. What a heartbreaking circumstance! And yet we think to ourselves, some of us at least, that we are owed this and that and the other thing, and without it we cannot be content.
Some people think that the Apostle Paul most assuredly never lived in the state of Illinois, and the reason is because you remember in the book of Philippians he said, “I have learned in whatever state I am therein to be content.” The other day I just typed into Google Illinois Debt, and I wanted to see how many billions we are in debt and I discovered that maybe there’s no agreement. I won’t even give you a number, but it is beyond belief, and yet our legislature is totally paralyzed, unable to act, unable to do anything about it as we keep going in this direction. And someday the experts say the house of cards is going to come down. But “I’ve learned in whatever state I am in therein to be content,” said the Apostle Paul. He said, “I know how to be humbled. I know how to be abased.” He said, “I know what it is to suffer want and need. I also know what it is like to be blessed by a good income.” At least sometimes he did during his tent-making experience. Have you and I prayed that God would make us content so that we would live within our income rather than beyond it?
Number seven is generosity. Should people give even out of poverty? I don’t want to put too fine a point on it but in a sense it depends on how much you really do love God. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians regarding the Macedonians that they gave out of their extreme poverty. Wow! No wonder they received a special blessing.
You know the Bible says that he who sows sparingly shall reap sparingly. The person who sows generously will reap generously. Now you know that we are opposed to what is known as the “name it – claim it” money wealth theology. But the Bible does in 2 Corinthians connect very clearly generosity with God’s blessing. For example, it says that if you are generous you will reap a harvest of righteousness. That why I think that proportionate giving to God is important, even in the midst of poverty, to remind us that all of it is His and we are given the opportunity to test Him and to indeed receive a blessing. It’s not dollar for dollar. It’s not “I give God $10 and he’ll give me $100 back.” No, but God is generous and blesses those who are generous with that which means most to us. It means a great deal to us, namely the whole issue of money.
And so I invite you to be generous. Don’t say to yourself, “Well, you know we’re going to pay all of these bills and if we happen to have something left over….” No, give something to God first, and then as He prospers you, do as our experience has been in our home where we increase the amount of percentage over and over again as we experience God’s blessing. Let us be a generous people. And you know there are those in our congregation who are struggling today. They don’t have a job. They can’t pay their bills. We do all that we possibly can to help them through the fellowship fund, but there are also those needs that we hear about that we can contribute to and do so with a sense of release and joy.
Where does all of this lead us? I’d like to give you some suggestions going forward. First of all, let money unite your family and not divide it. That is so very, very critical because, you see, what happens during the time of financial need is that you discover that people begin to use it as a point of attack between the wife and the husband. It’s one of those hot button issues. One of the things that you have to do is to talk, and if you made a mistake and made a foolish investment, there’s no use trying to put the best face on it and say, “Well, you know I meant well.” Yeah, we all mean well. What you have to do is to humble yourself and to admit to it, and be reconciled at that point and be dead honest in terms of your relationship. How critical that is – honesty!
And don’t get into bed and assume the fetal position and put the blanket over your head. Today we have opportunities we never had before. When Rebecca and I were first married there weren’t all of these organizations and websites that help people who were in financial need, and who gave them instruction as to what the plans are to get out of debt, and how you can restructure, and how you can save money. The websites and the books are filled now with good advice, and you can go to financial advisors who are able to help you. But I plead with you. Don’t get divorced over the money issue. Come to agreement. Come to an understanding. Lay all the cards on the table and seek reconciliation.
The other thing that is very important is the commitment of all that you have to God. Now when I began this message with point number one – it all belongs to God – probably you said to yourself, “Yeah, we’ve heard all that before,” but have you ever transferred what you own to God?
I was reading a Christian book on money in which it had a quit claim page on which you signed off on all that you owned and you put that in there. All of my investments, all of my property, all this and that, whatever I have, my car, I sign it to God. Do that because, you see, even in the midst of your need, in the midst of mistakes, God is there to help us. He doesn’t abandon us simply because we say, “Well, you know you’re the one who got into debt and so you know you can figure this out on your own.” God is available to those who give themselves to Him.
Finally, remember the fact that we should be generous because God has been generous. Let me ask you a question. How much do you owe God? The truth is we all owe God obedience to the Ten Commandments. For example, thou shall not covet. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Thou shall not covet his possessions. You and I are guilty of coveting. That is sin. And we owe God righteousness on that part.
It says thou shall not bear false witness, and we can go through all of the Ten Commandments. Thou shall love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart. We owe that all to God. We are indebted to Him hugely. But do you know what we have to do? We have to rejoice that Jesus paid our debt. Isn’t that good news? (applause)
Harry Ironside, who was the pastor here for many years back in the forties, tells the story that I shall retell. During the days of Nicholas the First, there was a soldier who was promoted because he was the son of Nicholas’s friend. And this young soldier had the responsibility of divvying up the money for the soldiers. In those days you didn’t have it on the Internet. You couldn’t use electronic banking, so all the soldiers had to be given money, but the young man fell into the sin of gambling, and gambled away the money that belonged to the soldiers. And according to the story, he totaled it all up, saw what the total was, and decided that at midnight he’d commit suicide because he knew that he was going to be outed and embarrassed. And he totaled it up and wrote under the total, “A great debt! Who can pay?”
Well, as the story goes he fell asleep and Nicholas himself came by the barracks that night. He recognized the young man as the son of one of his favorite friends, and was going to have him arrested but noticed the ledger, and Nicholas saw that the young man was sleeping, and he took out his pen and wrote one word under the caption, “A great debt! Who can pay?” and then he turned away and left.
When the young man woke up he saw the ledger, and there, under those words was one word – Nicholas. He checked to see if this was an authentic signature by going to the safe to see if it matched, and he recognized it was. And the very next day someone came from the palace to bring the money that this young man had squandered.
Great debt! Who can pay? Jesus came to pay what you and I can’t, and when he said “Tetelestai, paid in full,” He met our debt. He paid for us so that we can be redeemed, and even as we take the cup we say, “This cup is the cup of the New Covenant in my blood; this bread represents my body.” That was the payment that was made because of our sin. How can we help but be a generous people?
And if you’ve never received Christ as Savior, and received that gift of payment, acknowledge your indebtedness and believe on Him right now.
And will you join me as we pray?
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Your grace that has been given to us in Jesus, our Lord. Thank You that though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor that we, through His poverty, might be made rich. Help us, oh Lord God, we pray. May we be in a position of great joy and help all, Father, who are struggling with issues of debt to honestly face it and know that You are there to help them see the way out. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.