The Puzzle of Your FinancesErwin W. Lutzer | November 1, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
Greed is never content to be alone. Though you need money to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, the desire to be rich can entrap you.
A love of money will speak louder to you than God. Your heart will be focused on your next paycheck, your next get-rich-quick scheme, not on God and His will for your life.
When it comes to finances in marriage, be honest, content, faithful, and generous. Don’t make a major expenditure unless both of you agree it’s a wise decision. Store up for yourself riches in heaven.
Dug from the mountainside or washed in 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.
Today’s topic is money. This is a true story. We shall call them Julie and Tom. They lived together before they were married. After all, they wanted to save some money and have house equity. After they got married they decided to buy a house because both of them had jobs. They got some money from Tom’s father for the down payment. They also bought a car because it had zero percent financing. And later on Julie got pregnant and there were some complications in the pregnancy, and she had to quit her job and now they were living on one salary, so Tom went and tried surreptitiously, without her knowing, to get a second mortgage on the house to pay their bills. Julie found out that he was being dishonest and she was angry because she thought he was wasteful. He said that it was really her fault, because it’s the pregnancy that messed everything up. And one argument led to another and eventually they got divorced over the matter of money.
It happens too often.
Why is it that money is such a touchy subject? Why is it the thing that sparks so many arguments? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s because money is the essence of living; and that is to say that we need money in order to live, and we do.
One of our sons-in-law works for a building company and he said this past week a man was laid off from his job. He has five children. What is he going to do? He has a mortgage to pay. He’s got groceries to buy. The kids have needs. They have all kinds of issues, I am sure. How is he going to make it? I don’t know, but I breathed a prayer that somehow he would.
Many of you are in the very same predicament. Many of you have been searching for work for a year or two and the work has not materialized. You’ve been seeking employment and God hasn’t seen fit to give you a job, and you are wondering whether you are going to go home today and find the lights turned out. We have many people in our church who are in that kind of a predicament.
Now the Bible has much to say about the poor. For example, James says that there are those who are poor but are rich in faith, and that’s wonderful. Sometimes the poor are rich in faith most assuredly, but I do have to say, and many of you will testify, that poverty can very easily be over-rated. My wife and I saw Fiddler on the Roof I think 35 years ago, and I think it was one of the best movies ever produced. Do you remember how Tevye was told that money is a curse? He said, “Well, to be poor is no disgrace, but on the other hand it’s no great honor either.” And then when the young man comes and says that money is a curse, I think he walks out of the barn and says, “Oh, God, if money is a curse, smite me with it, and may I never recover.” Do you remember that?
Yeah, I’ll tell you something. Money is the essence of life in this sense. We need money to live. If you don’t want to live on the street, you need money to live. That’s why it touches us so very deeply. But there’s another reason, and that is because money makes so many promises. It has so much seductive power; it makes all the same promises as God. You’ve heard me say that before but it’s true. God says, “I will be with you and I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Money says, “I’ll be with you and I’ll never forsake you. I’ll be there whether there’s healthcare or not. I have enough. I can pay for you. I’ll be there in old age so that you can live in a nice place in your final days. I’ll be there to clothe you. I’ll be there to give you all the entertainment you want. Tell me the entertainment and I’ll be there to do it for you.” And so money comes along and says, “You want to sin. I can fund it.”
Before I told you about a man and I have to tell the story again because I shall never forget it. He had a stroke and it debilitated him and at first he was very angry, but years afterwards I asked him if he had ever thanked God for his stroke, and he said, “I thank him every day for it.” That surprised me, and he said, “You have to understand. I had the time and I had the money to go deeply into sin, and the stroke prevented me.” He said, “I thank God every day for it.” Oh, money is seductive.
Wave big money in people’s faces and they will just become demons. I remember an attorney telling me a story about how a man willed several millions of dollars to a Christian institution, and then the step-children (not his children) objected and they tried to change the will after he died, and they got an unscrupulous attorney who even was disbarred later because of all of the things that he had done, and here you have this family now torn apart with lies and deceit and one trick after another because in their mind they were saying, “Get it honestly if you can, but if necessary, get it dishonestly, but by all means get it.” Money makes demons even out of Christians. It is very seductive.
Now with that background the intention of this message is to give you some principles about money by which we should live. If you had heard this message years ago, it might have spared you some grief, and if I had preached it years ago it might have spared me some grief as well, but here we are. And at the end of the message I am going to be outlining how couples can stop all arguments about money. You never have to have another argument about money again. Isn’t that great? Just think that you have come here to The Moody Church and today we’re going to put it all to rest. Don’t you wish? (laughter) I’m not quite that naïve.
I do know this. I believe that these principles will do that, but you have to hear from God or you won’t like the principles. Therefore, even though we have prayed several times already, I am going to ask all of us to pray now, and men, I want you to pray. Wives, I want you to pray. Singles, I want you to pray. Wherever you are, if you are watching this by way of internet all over the world, let us ask God to speak to us because if you only hear my words you won’t change. What you need to hear today is the Word of God, and God has to change your heart. Would you join me as we pray?
Father, as we come to this sensitive topic of money, make this a transforming experience. We ask, Lord Jesus, that the light of Your Word would shine upon us, and that in shining upon us we might be changed. We pray, Father, that arguments that have taken place in homes for years might end, and we ask, Lord, that couples will be on the same page in their lives and that the Holy Spirit of God would work mightily. And for those who do not know Christ as Savior, we pray that they may understand the Gospel. In Jesus’ name we ask, Amen.
I want you to take your Bibles today and turn to 1 Timothy 6, where we are going to look at these principles. The reason that you should be reading your Bible is, always remember, that it is a talking book. When we read the Bible we hear the voice of God. Maybe you are like me. You’ve never heard a voice outside of yourself speaking, although I do believe that one time I did, but that’s abnormal. The point is that when we want to hear what God has to say, we open His Word.
Very quickly I am going to give you five or six principles, and then I am going to get on the issue of some practical wisdom of how you can resolve financial conflicts. That’s the agenda.
First of all, you’ll notice the principle of honesty. Now to pick this up I am going to read 1 Timothy 6. It’s talking about false teachers. It says starting in verse 4, “He is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth (and now notice this), imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” Let’s read just that far.
This is written now to the people who will be in Ephesus. That was probably where Timothy was when he received this letter, and in Ephesus, godliness was becoming popular, so some people said, “If godliness is where it’s at, then that’s where we want to be because we want to make a buck on godliness,” and they did it through their false teaching, through charging exorbitant fees for what they were doing and through deceiving God’s people with all these arguments, and with all these quarrels because they wanted to make a fast buck.
Principle number one when it comes to money is honesty. These people didn’t have it. May you and I have it today as Christians. And I would say that this honesty extends to other issues. When you earn money, earn it honestly. A number of years ago I was in Hong Kong and I bought a camera lens. I was sent there because I was told that this man was a Christian, and so he and I talked and he said, “You know, if I were totally honest I wouldn’t be able to compete with all the businesses along this street.” He said, “You know, I also have to have some dishonesty to compete.” Well, I sat there, and over a period of five or six minutes I tried to help him consider trying to do something very unreasonable but very Biblical. I said, “Why don’t you just trust God? Oh, of course you have to lower your prices because of competition but you don’t have to tell a client that he’s getting this kind of quality when in point of fact he’s getting another kind of quality. That kind of deceit dishonors God. Why don’t you just trust God and be honest?” I don’t know whether or not he took my advice.
There must be honesty in terms of how you get it, and honesty in your relationship with your spouse. I read this past week that in about 50% of all marriages (that’s about half of you) one spouse has a secret that the other doesn’t know about when it comes to finances. A good example is a man who I knew who took $30,000 from their joint retirement account and spent it trying to get rich quick on the Internet. And of course, I don’t have to tell you, do I, that he lost it all? Now there are two things that he did wrong. Number one, he didn’t ask his wife. She would have had the good sense to tell him this is crazy. Any good wife would have seen that, and wives have the ability to see through that, and that’s what she would have told him and he would have been spared the agony. And secondly, he did it without her knowing it.
So I am speaking today to couples today where usually the man says, “Well, you know, I want to spare my wife of all the reality,” and she senses back there dishonesty, deceit, some little lies, and she doesn’t know where it’s at. Folks, it’s time, if you are married, to take everything that is under the table, and put it on the table, and don’t you dare make any major expenditure unless both of you are agreed that it’s a wise one. That’s the principle of honesty.
We must hurry on to the principle of contentment. Notice 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.” Will we? I don’t think so. What is the great enemy of the advertising industry, the one enemy that they want to destroy, the one enemy that they are fighting against, the one enemy that they just absolutely hate? It’s contentment. If you are content with this old car you aren’t going to buy a new one. If you are content with the clothes that you are wearing you aren’t going to need to get new ones. And by the way, I’ll throw this in at no extra charge, I think that probably Eve is one of the only women in the world who said to her husband without lying, “I have nothing to wear.” (laughter) But you see, today, though we have food and clothes, we are not content. We are discontent. Paul is saying, “If you have the basics, blessed is the person who is content with them.” But we aren’t content, and then you have the credit card coming along, and the credit card says, “You don’t have to be content.”
You know, when I was growing up we weren’t dirt poor, but we were poor. I could tell you stories, and when we wanted something we used to have to pray that God would somehow get it to us, or somehow that we’d get the money to get it. Today the credit card says, “God, we won’t have a thing to do with you. We won’t depend upon you. If we need a different car, we’ll simply go and we will borrow the money, and we’ll use the credit card, and we don’t need you anymore.” Those old days about praying about needs—they’re gone. $9,300 is what the average couple has on their credit card if they’re not the kind of people who pay at the end of the month. And there are a few people who pay at the end of the month, and for them the credit card is great, but they are a minority.
And do you know what else the credit card companies know? They know that you will spend at least one-third more with a credit card. Can you imagine taking your family to a restaurant and laying down say $70 or $80 to have a meal together—you and the kids? Are you telling me you’d do that if you didn’t have a credit card? Are you telling me that you’d actually take out your wallet and you would count out (ten, twenty, thirty, forty) the money? There’s no way you would do that, but you give them a piece of plastic. Of course I don’t think it’s wrong to borrow for appreciating items. I know that houses have gone down in value but generally speaking, when you buy something like that it’s going to appreciate. But you buy a new car and make payments, and you drive the thing across the street and it’s lost $500. And so what we must do is to recognize the absolute curse of debt. Remember debt, devil, and dirt are all related, and some of you are in debt because you are buying groceries now with credit cards and I understand that and that’s a need, and I’m going to be talking about getting on the same page a little later on, but the thing is contentment.
Now notice what it says about those who aren’t content. I’m reading verse 9 now: “But those who desire to be rich 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.” Wow! What’s that all about?
Listen, if you are covetous, if you are greedy, greed never is content to be alone. Greed will always bring other sins with it—always new explorations, always a new way to assert your power and your value, and that is how money can be a curse, because now suddenly it becomes not the root of all evils, but a root of many, many different kinds of evils, and I don’t have time to illustrate that, but I could. But certainly earning more money to better your condition is not the same as craving to be rich. To go from one home to another because your family is growing and they need more space, that is different than the craving to be rich. To desire money so that you might be able to support the Lord’s work is not the same as craving to be rich, but the love of money is a root of many different kinds of evils, and what you need to do is to slay that beast of covetousness that is coiled in the human heart like a snake, wanting to choke you. And so, notice what the Bible has to say about it. And why is it such a deceitful thing?
Well, as I mentioned, we need money, but here’s the thing. When you love money, what you’ll discover is money will speak louder to you than God, and furthermore, you will be content not with godliness. That’s not what will delight you as Paul explains later. It’s not what will turn you on. What will really delight you is a big paycheck. That’s where your mind will be. That’s where your heart will be. That’s where your schemes will be. And so contentment is the first principle.
The second principle is faith. Now notice as we turn the page in our Bibles to verse 17, it says these words: “As for the rich in this present age….” Now Paul is no longer talking about those who simply desire to be rich. He’s talking about those who are rich. By the way, what comes to mind when you read that phrase, “As for the rich in this present age”? I immediately think of people who have more money than I do. Is that what you do too? Do you think, “Well, I may have hundreds or a few thousand,” but we think of those who are millionaires. Oh, that’s whom Paul is talking to. Well, my friend, if you are employed and have food on the table, and if you have clothes and you live in a decent place, you are rich. I am rich in comparison to the kinds of situations that Paul was writing to, so don’t wiggle out.
Now, if you are here today and you don’t have a job and you are wondering whether or not you can pay your bills then maybe this phrase doesn’t apply to you, but the principle still does, so let’s include all of ourselves in this. “Let those who are rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty….” Why would a rich man be haughty? It’s because a rich man says, “I don’t need you. I don’t need to go to church. I don’t need your fellowship because after all, I am totally independent. I am a self-made man.” Right? So he warns them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches (Boy, didn’t God ever show us the uncertainty of riches during the stock market crash? And God loves to do that because there are always those who will say, “Well, it’ll always be there.” No, maybe it won’t be there.) but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” You hope in God.
Now this is huge. You know the name George Mueller? He lived in the 1800s and was a contemporary of D. L. Moody. Mueller had about eight or nine orphanages in Bristol, England. You can read about this even on the internet if you don’t want to read his biography, even though the biography is great. What he did is he supplied all this money without mentioning money to anybody. All that he did was pray.
Now some people think that that is what we should do, but actually I need to tell you that there is nothing wrong with outlining needs as we shall do not today, but we will do that to this congregation later on to inform you as to where we are and why we need your help. But Mueller did that and he said he did it, and he fed them. I mean there are so many stories of where the kids sat down at the table and there was nothing to eat, and there was a knock on the door and somebody was bringing a cart of groceries. It was one miracle after another after another, but he said he did it to prove that God can be trusted to three different groups. First of all, there were young people who didn’t know that they could trust God. Secondly, he said there were business people, and those business people thought that they had to cheat in order to live, and what he needed to do was to try to show them that no, you don’t, because God is able. And then he said there were old people who feared that in their old age (and in those days there was no social security, and there were no old folks’ homes or retirement centers as there are today) that somehow their needs would not be met. And Mueller said that he wanted to demonstrate that God can be trusted.
What does this principle mean to you? If I were to take a poll of those who are going through times of financial hardship, you’d probably tell me, “Pastor, I pray about it all the time,” and I’d believe you. I’m going to ask you to take a step beyond that. Instead of praying about it, just simply give it to God. Transfer the burden from your heart and give it to God, and just say, “God, I can’t handle this.” It’s not a matter of prayer anymore because prayer is sometimes so easy to give in unbelief, and you are just praying because you do not believe anything. When it comes to transferring it and committing it, that becomes a different story. And why is it that God gives us the uncertainty of riches? It’s so that we might stop trusting riches and hope in God.
I must hurry on. The next principle is generosity. Verse 18 says, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works (Now there’s a way in which all of us can be rich), to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
You know, I hope you never get over the Bible. It is an unbelievable book. You know, I just read this and I say, “My, what a book,” for a couple of reasons. First of all, notice that when it comes to giving, the first reason to give is not so that Moody Church can keep its lights on, so that we can pay salaries, so that we can fund missionaries. That’s not the first reason to give. The Bible nowhere is critical of investments. It is very critical of bad investments, but whether you are talking about Jesus or Paul, they are repeatedly talking about money, and good investments. A good investment is one that number one has security. It is absolutely secure. It is not subject to the stock market, and number two, it has a high rate of return. Those are the only investments that the Bible approves, and Paul is approving it here. He told them that what they must do is to be rich in good works, and then to give and to share, so that they might store up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they would take hold of that which is life indeed, and the future has to do with heaven. And that’s what Jesus said. He said, “Put your money in heaven where moth and rust does not corrupt, where thieves cannot break through and steal, and you’ve made a very wise investment.” Why? It is totally secure. It has a high rate of interest, and you know what? You are doing this for yourself. Self-interest should definitely be the reason why we give.
I can imagine that when we take an offering or we explain the needs of Moody Church there are some people who say, “Oh there they go again. That’s all the church wants is money. Money, money, money, money!” Listen, if you have that attitude I have a couple of things to say to you just between you and me. Nobody else needs to listen to this.
Number one, keep your money. That’s number one. We don’t want it and God doesn’t need it. Number two, why don’t you repent of the fact that you do not understand that you are not giving it to us? You are storing up for yourself a treasure and a foundation. Notice that this is what the text says. This is what amazes me about the Bible. Look here, it says “that they may store up treasure for themselves.” We are giving you the opportunity of making a wise investment for yourself, so that you might meet your money again in eternity. And then again I marvel at the Bible. Look at this. You know, what does money promise? Oh, if you’ve got lots of money then for sure you are going to have life. You can have homes all over the world. That’s what money promises. Notice that Paul says that if you give you’ll lay up for yourself a treasure of that which is truly life. You’ll lay up a treasure of godliness and an investment in heaven that is truly life.
Well, there’s another principle, but I’m going to have to give that to you some other time because I want to get to this business of marriages, and time goes by so rapidly—so quickly.
Let me move to the end. Do you remember that passage of Scripture that was read to us today and it says, “What more shall I say?” Do you remember that Eric read that from Hebrews 11? There was a young preacher who began with that and said, “What more shall I say?” and someone in the back row said, “Try Amen,” so I’m always a little concerned when that Scripture is read.
Oh, marriages! Number one, and these are all “L’s” so that you can remember them. Let’s go over them quickly.
Number one, listen to each other. What happens in arguments is nobody listens. Immediately the other spouse is there to correct, to judge, to improve on what is being said, and that’s a disaster. You listen to each other. There’s nothing that you can do for your spouse to give her or him more respect than to simply hear him out totally without even thinking of how you’re going to respond or how quickly you are going to respond—to just let them speak, speak, speak, and listen not only to the words, but also to their hearts. Gentlemen, listen to your wives. You may not agree with them, but you have to hear them. Wives, listen to your husbands totally, and when one is finished, you don’t answer right away. You go for a cup of tea and then you come back and you discuss it rationally. Do you remember the verse of Scripture that you should have on your refrigerator from Proverbs 26? Verse 10 says, “Where there is no wood the fire goes out.” Another story. Listen.
Now a marriage counselor who knows a lot more about this than I do, and I don’t know. I’m just quoting. When somebody has counseled couples for years I always listen to what they have to say. He says that he has observed that in conflict, women are generally critical and men are lazy. I don’t know. I’m just quoting somebody else here. I have nothing to do with it. I’m just reporting. Listen to each other.
We must hurry along. Number two, in the process of listening, learn. That’s number two. Learn. There are so many good books about spending plans. Get with a couple that has wisdom. Talk to our pastor of families who has books on budgets, and learn from the past. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from where you are going, and learn and learn and learn. How important that is, and if you don’t have employment, I have a full-time job for you right now, and the full-time job is to look for employment full-time. And I know that this is easy for me to say but don’t look only in your field. Be willing to do something else. I admire a man whom I know who is very, very highly qualified, and he is working at Jewel stacking groceries. I admire that, and so does God.
This is a very difficult time economically. Talk to our people. We have a re-employment committee here at Moody Church, and our desire is to be able to help you in terms of employment. I don’t know all the things that we can do, but we will do whatever we can to help you during this difficult time, but sit down and make a spending plan that the two of you can agree on, and come to some kind of agreement regarding finances, so that instead of finances being the thing that drives you apart, let the financial issue be that which brings you together. You know, the Bible says in Proverbs 14:23, “Those who work hard profit but mere talk only leads to poverty.” There are all kinds of proverbs that speak to this issue of money. Be teachable under this “learn” experience.
Number three, lean. Lean means that you now lean on God. Do you think that God abandons you when things get difficult? Do you think that God says, “Well, you know, you are in this mess, and I’m just going to leave you there.” Well, He may leave you there to teach you some lessons, but if you are a teachable person, God knows that also, and God is there to help us in our need. He’s there to help us as a church, and as individuals. Our trust is in God and we lean hard on Him, and men (husbands), it’s your responsibility to pray with your wives and to give all these matters to God and to take God’s promises and to hang on to them. And if you are looking for another verse to put on your refrigerator, how about 2 Chronicles 16:9? This will bless your soul. The Scripture says that the Lord’s eyes go to and fro throughout the whole earth, seeking those whose hearts are perfect toward him that he might greatly fend for them, that he might be strong on behalf of those whose hearts are set on him. Of course this is a time of distress. For the world it’s a time of distress, and our eyes need to be set on God.
Finally, I want to say a word to those of us who have employment. What is our responsibility during difficult financial times? Our responsibility is to help. A woman in prayer meeting prayed the other day and it was so beautiful. She said, “Lord, You spoke not only to Elijah but You also spoke to the raven to bring him food. And when the Lord needed some money He not only spoke to Peter but He spoke to the fish in whose mouth the coin was that they needed,” so God speaks to those who do not have, and He also speaks to those who have.
I have to tell you that throughout the years my wife and I have been able to give gifts of money to a lot of different people who have financial needs, and it is wonderful to do it. You don’t get a tax credit for it but the fact that you know about it and God knows about it is so freeing and liberating to bless others. It really is, and we need to have our eyes and our ears open and see whether or not God is leading into our lives those whom we can bless and those whom we can help. And I know that you have done the same and you have experienced the same joy of giving. Whatever you do, don’t die with a lot of money. Give it away before you die. My philosophy is I want to do my givin’ while I’m livin’ so I’m knowin’ where it’s goin’. (laughter) And whatever you do, don’t give your kids a lot. You’ll destroy them. If they are needy give them enough…. You know, a woman in prayer meeting just this past Wednesday looked up at me with a big smile and said, “Pastor Lutzer, if I die, half of my money is going to go to Moody Bible Institute, and half is going to Moody Church.” Well might she smile, by the way. Moody Bible Institute is training missionaries, and Moody Church is sending missionaries all over the world, helping here in the city of Chicago, and building families. She is storing up treasure for herself—a good foundation for the future—that she may lay hold of that which is truly life.
Let me ask you something. You claim to be a Christian. Are you generous? Very quickly, visualize a man who has a huge estate. He has absolutely everything and in this estate he has a servant who is evil. The servant steals from him. The servant is critical of him. The servant hurts others. He is an evil servant, but the man also has a son who he greatly loves. He is wildly in love with his son, and he says to his son, “Son, I have chosen to love that evil servant with the very same love with which I love you, but in order for me to forgive that servant so that we can have fellowship together, you are going to have to die, and you are going to have to bear the sin and the evil of that servant.” That’s the Gospel, and the Bible says that God loves us even as He loves Christ. I’m not making it up. It’s there in John 17: “Thou hast loved them even as thou hast loved me,” and God says, “That’s how much I love you and that’s what I paid to redeem you.”
Can you accept a redemption like that, a forgiveness like that and then be stingy? I don’t think so. God says that what He wants to do is to have us lay it all before Him, and to work things out in such a way that in this business of money there might be harmony and peace in our homes, whether we have much or little, for His glory. And by the way, some of you who are listening, you maybe never trusted Christ as Savior. You’ve never trusted that Son. The Bible says that He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. How shall He not also freely give us all things? I recommend Jesus to you today. He’s the one who can reconcile you to God, forgive your sin, make you a child of the king, and then you are also in the mainstream of His eternal blessing.
Let’s pray together.
Father, take these thoughts, however scattered, we pray, and use them according to Your good will and purpose, and we ask, oh Lord Jesus, that You will grant to us the sure knowledge that whether we have little or much in this life, we have an equal opportunity to be faithful and to love You and to serve You. Grant that, oh God, we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.