God, The LandlordErwin W. Lutzer | February 27, 2000
Selected highlights from this sermon
As Creator, God owns the universe. This means that God has rights over everything in our lives, including our money. No wealth is truly ours. It’s on loan, and we’re to manage it wisely.
Sometimes wealth blesses us, and other times it cripples us. Through plenty or poverty, God demonstrates His faithfulness towards His people.
Did you know that we are apparently alone in the universe? The New York Times recently carried an extensive article on a book written by two scientists who said that the conditions needed for life are so finely tuned that it is highly unlikely, improbable, and really impossible that life exists anywhere else in all the galaxies of the universe. When you stop to think of it, it is remarkable, is it not, that God should have chosen this planet to be the one upon which the issues of truth and justice, and right and wrong, and human life, and animal life, and plant life to be the focal point of what He is doing throughout the whole universe.
And why are we here? Well, as you know, this is the second in a series of messages entitled Managing God’s Gifts. And we learned last time from the Old Testament story of Adam that the purpose of it all was that God did the creating, God owns it, and man is to manage it. Mankind is to look after God’s property.
We also learned that when we recognize that, it really frees us from worry because we learned that this body is God’s. Our money is God’s. What we own is God’s. And ultimately, if we punt the ball in His direction, if we say, “Oh Lord, this is all Yours,” then He has the responsibility of taking care of it, and it lifts many, many burdens from our shoulders.
Well, this morning what we’d like to do is to look at all that God owns, and then very briefly I’m going to outline a biblical view of wealth. Now when we do this I want you to know that the intention is that the Word of God change our lives. And if you listen carefully, and if you take to heart everything that I have said, some day you may meet me in heaven and say, “Thank you, Pastor Lutzer, for preaching that sermon because it helped me to understand the value of eternity.” Well, that’s where we are going and I’m glad you’ve joined us for the journey.
What is it that God owns? The text today is the eighth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, though I shall be referring to other passages as well. In Deuteronomy 8 the Lord is inviting the people again to remember the way in which He led them. It says in Deuteronomy 8:5: “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you.”
What does God own? He’s a landlord. What falls under His jurisdiction? Well, the answer is first of all, God owns His people. He owns us. He says to Israel, “I disciplined you because you are My son. You belong to Me.” If we had time I’d give you the references, but in the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as God’s inheritance.
You know, God can’t really inherit anything like we do. He owns everything, but He wants an inheritance too, and the people of God are His inheritance we read. Not only that, but they are (get this now) the treasured possession of God. They are His treasured possession. With all of their rebellion, with all of their sins, with all of their mistakes, God says, “You are Mine.” We come to the New Testament and we discover the same thing. It says in Ephesians 1 that we are God’s inheritance. And in 1 Peter we read that we are God’s own prized possession.
So I want you to look into my eyes this morning just for a moment, assuming you are able to, and I believe that you are. Look into my eyes this morning as I tell you that if you are a believer you belong to God, and therefore, you are His property. Does He take care of His property, or is He an absentee landlord? Well, I think He takes care of His property.
“Oh,” you say, “but I’ve had some difficulties (maybe even you have experienced abuse) and where was my heavenly father at that time?” That’s a long story, but I do want to remind you that God has a purpose in this world that is eternal. And even though the sufferings of this present world cannot relate or cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us, God keeps reminding us that yes, He does care for us, and in eternity we will know how well we were cared for. And the suffering of this life will not be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. God owns us, and He loves us.
Second, I want you to notice that God also owns our environment. Now we are in Deuteronomy 8, as I mentioned, and I pick it up at verse 6: “So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” God says, “I own it. It is My land.”
Now, of course, all the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein. But sometimes we speak of the Holy Land as the special place, not because the land is holy by any means, but the people who lived in it were to be holy before God. And that land, in a special sense, belongs to God because He designated it for His people – Old Testament Israel. For example, He gave the boundaries of the land. God told Abraham that it was going to be from the great river, the River Euphrates, all the way to the River of Egypt. God mapped it out, and later on, when the tribes come into the land, it is God who has Joshua cast lots to determine where they are going to settle, and ultimately it is God who determined it. God used that means to settle the people where He wanted them.
Now some of the people complained. Reuben and Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh were on the east side of the Jordan, and they didn’t like it because they seemed to be cut off from others. And others didn’t like it because they said, “We live in the hills where there are rocks, and we’d rather be out on the plains where it is easier to buy grain and to be able to grow it.” And you had all of this conflict. That’s why we sometimes talk about people who are dissatisfied with their lot in life. But just as God determined all those things, He determines that for us too. We’re not all born in the same community. We’re not all born with the same amount of wealth. We’re not born with the same opportunity, and we’re not all born with the same amount of ability, and yet, back behind these kinds of decisions stands God. Now that doesn’t mean that if we are born into a poverty situation we should not try to better ourselves. But the fact is that many people are very unhappy and angry with God because of their lot in life.
Interpreted within a certain context let me tell you that if you are angry because of your lot in life, you may be angry with God. God says, “The land is mine. I determine its borders.” And the nation of Israel was to be self-conscious stewards of that land.
You know that in the Old Testament they were, for example, to let the land lie fallow for one year in seven. Just like a man rests one day a week, so the land was to be fallow one year in seven. And then at the end of the period of seven of those cycles, there was to be the Year of Jubilee where all the land went back to its original owners so that there could be no such thing ultimately as the “haves and the have-nots” because everyone would always get a new beginning.
In order to make sure that the people realized that the land was God’s, in the fall they would bring a first fruits offering. They would actually bring sheaves of grain to the Temple, and they would wave them before the Lord. And they were to bring the best of the grain and to give it to Him as a reminder of the fact that all of it was His. God owns the land – the environment.
Now, does that mean that God was not serious about this, and especially the Sabbath? He was very serious. The reason that Israel was in captivity for 70 years is because they forgot 70 Sabbaths. And God said, “The land will have its Sabbaths, and you are punished one year for every one that you omitted throughout the centuries.”
Yes, God owns the environment. Could I say, parenthetically, that we should all be environmentalists? Now that is controversial depending on what you mean by environmentalism. And many of the folks today who are into environmentalism have a very pantheistic view of God, and maybe they are drawing the line where you and I wouldn’t want it drawn. All that is negotiable and up for debate, but the idea of taking the earth and simply using it without replenishing it, without thinking of the environment, would be unscriptural because God says, “I have made you a ruler over it. Take care of it for me, and be a good steward of it.” What does God own? Well, He owns us. He owns our environment.
Thirdly, He also owns our wealth. Now let’s pick up the text again and we’ll see what God has to say beginning in verse 10 of Deuteronomy 8: “And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness.” Let’s pick it up in verse 18: “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” Wow!
God says, “I own the wealth that’s in the land. When I created the world I created the land of Israel with copper. I created stones that would be like iron that could be used for various construction projects. I created the earth with minerals and nutrients that would be used to grow great crops. I’m the one that created the springs of water. I own it all. Now take good care of it, and beware lest your heart is lifted up with pride, and you say, ‘It is I who have begotten this wealth.’ You know, it is your Lord God that gives you that ability.”
We think of America, the land of plenty, a land of technology, with computers and cell phones and fax machines and all of this technological revolution that some of us are beginning to experience. And we think of the wealth that has been created. There’s more wealth in America in a three month period in 1999 than many countries have as the total amount of their budget for a year. And yet, we have forgotten God, have we not? Do we not say, “It is my mind that has given me the ability to make computers and microchips and whatever else is needed, and it is our ingenuity (good old American ingenuity) that has given us the ability to be the strong economic power that we are?” Beware lest your heart be lifted up with pride because it is God who gives you the ability to beget wealth. Beware!
Now what I’d like to do in the next few moments is to give you five principles that will help us understand a biblical view of wealth. And we shall go through them quite quickly.
Number one, wealth has the power to bless. Especially in the Old Testament you find wealth sometimes being directly linked to people that God just chooses to bless. God blessed Abraham, and what did He give him? He gave him flocks and herds and so forth. God blessed Solomon, and what did He give him? He gave more wealth than any other person of the period. He became the wealthiest man on the face of the earth. Wealth can bless. The Bible says in the Psalms that wealth and riches are in his house and righteousness endures forever. It’s talking about the righteous.
Now I need to tread very carefully here, and you listen as I tread carefully. It’s interesting that even though in the Old Testament wealth is often a sign of blessing, poverty is never a sign of disfavor from the Lord. In fact, sometimes God took men like Job and gave them a great deal of wealth and blessed them, and then took all the wealth from them to see whether or not they were really trusting Him or not.
So while you do have in the Scriptures (in the Old Testament particularly – it’s different in the New) that relationship between wealth and blessing, God never despises the poor. God never says that if you are poor, therefore it’s a sign of disfavor. And therefore I am sure that those who have been poor and those who have been rich would say that most assuredly it is better to be wealthy than it is to be poor because wealth can be a sign of blessing.
I mean, wealth can enable you to live in a nice house, buy nice clothes, to go to restaurants, to buy cars, to enjoy leisure. Wealth can be used to bless the lives of others as you generously give it. Wealth can be a blessing. Poverty on the other hand I suppose can be a blessing too. But we struggle with that, don’t we?
It was about 25 years ago that I saw the film entitled Fiddler on the Roof. That’s one, by the way, that you could see again. But do you recall, and I’m taking this just from memory, so don’t quote me directly, Tevye, who was in the barn and having an argument with his son-in-law. And his son-in-law was interested in socialism as I remember, and he said something like this: “Well, it’s no disgrace to be poor.” And I remember Tevye walking out of the barn and looking into the sky and saying something like this: “Well, it’s no disgrace to be poor, but on the other hand, it’s no great honor either.” Do you remember that line?
Wealth can bless you. All throughout the Scriptures we can show that. But let me give you a second statement of biblical understanding of wealth. Wealth has the power to curse you. I won’t read it again but why did God say, “Look, when you get into that land with its wealth and with its crops and its iron and its blessings of pomegranates and vegetables, beware lest your heart be lifted up with pride and you say, “I’ve done it?”
Why can wealth curse? It’s because wealth makes all of the same promises that God makes. Wealth says, “I’ll be with you in sickness. I’ll be with you in difficulties. I’ll be with you when you are well, and I’ll be with you when you are going through difficult times. I will give you happiness because I will be able to buy for you clothes and food and all these other things, and you don’t have to trust God anymore because I will be there for you.” And because of that, wealth curses people.
And when we forget that we are just stewards, and we become owners and we begin to say, “This is mine. I possess this,” and the wealth begins to possess us, beware. Some of you know people who are not generous. You know people who will take a quarter before they put it in the offering plate and hang onto it until their knuckles turn white because they say to themselves, “This is mine.” Beware, God says, because it has just cursed you if you look at it as yours.
Wealth! It’s magnetic. People who have high principles have sometimes sacrificed them when big money has been waved in their faces. I remember when the New Era scandal happened a number of years ago. Someone was saying he sat in a board room where people were going to invest in it because he suspected it was bogus and pled with them not to, and he said it was as if their eyes glazed over and they would not listen because the possibility of wealth was too overwhelming for them.
I was not among them but 23 million people watched when a young woman married a man whom she had never met before, and they married on national television. Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire? Now there are a number of concerns. What does that say about marriage, but I’m interested particularly in the money aspect. Here’s a young woman who said yes, marrying a man she had never met, and he had never met her. However, she did sign a prenuptial agreement that she really did not have any right to his wealth if things went bad in their marriage. There are a number of things that are wrong with that picture, wouldn’t you say? But let me suggest just one. Why Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? Why not have a show entitled Who Wants to Marry a Poor but Nice Guy? (laughter) Now why didn’t they have that on television? I could think of some people then who could participate in a show like that.
Multimillionaire! I’m reminded of what Peter said to someone in the New Testament. He said, “Did he not your money be damned?” At least one translation translates it that way. Money can bless. It’s more fun to be rich than it is to be poor. I can tell you that. But it can curse.
Dug from the mountainside or washed from the glen,
Servant am I or master of men.
Earn me, I bless you; steal me, I curse you.
Grasp me and hold me, a fiend shall possess you.
Lie for me, die for me, covet me, take me.
Angel or devil, I’m just what you make me.
And from Genesis to Revelation (especially from the lips of Jesus), we have one warning after another, after another because wealth can bless, but it can also curse.
Let me give you a third principle. Wealth and poverty are God’s means of leading us. You’ll notice that the book of Deuteronomy says, “I led you into the land.” I’m on verse 2 of chapter 8. “Remember that it was God who led you in the desert.” Now that was God leading them into the desert. God led them into poverty. Now He was going to lead them into the land of wealth. Both were of God. There are some lessons that wealth cannot teach you. There are some things that only poverty can teach you. There are some things that maybe being wealthy can teach you that being poor can’t. And God says, “Both are in My hands.”
Most people go through that roller coaster of sometimes having money and sometimes not. That’s been my experience as well as others. And most of us came up through the poverty route when we were first married, and we understand what poverty is. And what God is saying is, “Don’t you realize that that’s the way I lead you? I want you to trust Me for those things that you cannot afford, and I want you to pray about them, and I want you to see how I will give them to you, even though you can’t afford them.”
Now we have circumvented that principle, and it’s called credit card debt. We’ve said, “I don’t have to pray about it. I don’t have to ask God whether He wants me to have new furniture. I don’t have to ask God if He wants us to have a new car or not. I can just go buy it and pay for it later.” In the midst of wealth, I read recently, there is more consumer debt in the United States right now than ever. When times are bad, the debt goes up because people need money in order to live supposedly, and in good times it goes up even more because people are so optimistic that they will be able to pay these bills.
Oh friend, if I don’t get a chance to say this at any other time in this series, I shall say it now. If you are a slave to credit cards, if you use credit cards not to simply pay your bills at the end of the month but it accumulates…
Do you remember when we were boys and girls we all wanted to play doctor? Remember that? We’d say, “Let’s play doctor or whatever.” This is your chance for you to revert back to your childhood and play doctor. And what you can do is you can take those credit cards and perform some plastic surgery on those credit cards. (laughter) I don’t know if you heard it or not, but I heard of a plastic surgeon who melted. That’s another story, of course, but wealth is God’s way of leading us.
The Apostle Paul says, “I have learned in whatever state I am (“Yeah,” you say, “he was never in Illinois.”), thereby to be content.” He says, “I know what it is to be wealthy, to have my needs met. I know what it is to be poor. I know what it is to abound. I know what it is to be abased, and I accept both from God.”
Let me give you a fourth principle. Wealth can be the means by which we test God. It’s the means by which we test God. Now I’ve looked at this passage ahead of time so I want you to only listen to this, but it comes from the book of Malachi, chapter 3, verse 8. “Will a man rob God?” he says. People were not giving their offerings. They weren’t bringing their tithes. They were not giving God His ten percent. In the Old Testament they were to do that specifically, and there were other offerings that they were to make as well, and they weren’t doing it, and they were saying, “Well, I have my own needs first.” There were no first fruit offerings to the Lord. They said, “Well, we’re going to keep the best for ourselves.”
God says, “Will you rob me?” You say, “But how do we rob you?” He says, “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse, the whole nation of you, because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord God Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it.”
Did you know that throughout Scripture it says, “Don’t test the Lord.” Don’t put God in a box. Don’t jump over a cliff, saying, “Well, He has to rescue me because He has promised to take care of His people.”Don’t do that. This is the only text in the entire Bible where God says, “Test me.” God says, “Check me out and see what I will do if you will trust Me with your money and be generous and give as I have prospered you and see what I will do, and see the blessing that will come your way.” Later on, when we get to the New Testament, we’ll see how that principle works out more specifically in our day. But God is saying, “Here I am. Test me. Trust me.” Wow!
What an opportunity we have as a church. Isn’t it marvelous that after 75 years (we’ve not had a building program in those years) God has led us to this moment, to this hour, to this opportunity in this millennium? And He says to you and to me and to anyone else who is listening, “Test me and just see what happens when you become generous and you trust Me with your money, and see what I will do.”
Principle number five: Money or wealth is the means of testing our own faithfulness or lack thereof. Someday I will go into this in more detail, but you remember Jesus, in the New Testament, said this. He said, “If you can’t be trusted with filthy lucre…” You know, we say, “Oh no, it’s not filthy lucre. It’s really nice.” Well, Jesus understood that money could be such a curse. Yes, He also understood it could be a blessing, but He says, “If you can’t be trusted with money, if you can’t be trusted with stocks and bonds and mutual funds and Krugerrands, and whatever else, who will give you the true riches?” God says, “It’s a test to see how you will do,” and the way we pass that test will determine even the kind of reward that we have as we stand in the presence of God. The question is, “Have we been able to trust God?” Or have we said, as Israel did, “The strength of my own hand and my own ingenuity – it is that that has given me the ability to beget wealth, and it is mine.” Cursed is the person who says that.
I’ve never forgotten the story of William Cantelon, who wrote a little booklet entitled The Day the Dollar Dies. In it he talks about post-war Germany. And when the government was begun in Bonn after some settlements were made after World War II, there was a woman who kept all of her German Marks in a box. And she worked very hard and she put her money in the box, and I’m sure she looked at it once in a while. But she kept it there because just outside of Frankfurt there was a Bible school that had been demolished in the war. And because she had quite a few Marks she brought the box full of Marks to Mr. Cantelon who was in charge of the school. And she said, “Here is money so that you can rebuild.”
In his book he talks about the agony that he went through. He thought to himself, “Did she not read this morning’s paper? Was she not aware of the news? Had she not heard? Must he be the one to bring such sadness to this dear old woman, God bless her, that the day before, the government in Bonn had cancelled all German Marks. Her money was worthless.
I told you a moment ago that money makes all the same promises that God makes. “I’ll be with you. I’ll give you happiness. I’ll be there when you need me. You can always depend on me. You don’t need any friends because when you are desperate you can buy anything you like.” It makes all those promises. It can’t keep them. And in the end everything is going to be cancelled. All of Wall Street, all of LaSalle Street, all of the talk, all of the business communications, all of the satellites and the technology and all that went into that will be cancelled and worthless.
The Day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night, and the Scripture says that the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the world and all of its works shall be burned up. Money made promises it could not keep. And that which we keep is that which we meet on the other side. “Lay not up treasures for yourselves on earth where moth and rust doth corrupt – and where the stock market can vacillate – but rather lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves cannot break through and steal, for where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.”
We have before us a challenge, don’t we? And the challenge is, can we trust God in the area that is most sensitive to us, and say, “Lord, it is yours? Therefore I have only one really honest question. What will you have me do with that which belongs to You? I am the caretaker and You are the owner.”
Some of you listening to this message may get a wrong impression, so I need to correct it. If you are here today and you have never trusted Christ as Savior, you don’t go to heaven by deciding to give and be generous. It’s nice to do those things but that’s not the way. First of all, you receive the free gift that has been given to us in Christ. “By grace we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves. It is not of works. It is a free gift.” So I offer to you today the water of life freely. Don’t even begin to think about giving to God unless first you’ve come to Christ to receive the water of life freely to belong to Him forever. And then as His child you say, “Now Lord, Father, what will You have me to do?”
Our Father, we want to thank You today for all of Your mercies, for the grace of Christ and for the strength of Christ. We thank You today that we are blessed beyond measure. Most of us have many suits of clothes. Many of us have cars that work, and homes that are warm in the winter and cold in the summer. Father, how You have just poured out Your blessing, and we have said in our hearts, “This is mine.” Oh forgive us. Cleanse us, Lord. We ask that You shall bring us to that realization that all is of Your grace, and we have only one question. What do You want?
Thank You for this congregation and for the many who are listening, maybe by radio. And we pray today that with one voice and one heart we might be the people that we should be. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.