Teaching series from Hebrews

The New Worship & Our Money

Hebrews 13:5-6

Teaching t10588


Briefly review the contrasts between Old Testament and New Testament worship (CHART).  Briefly review the first two elements of the New Testament worship lifestyle described in Heb.13 (loving other people & God’s design for our sexuality). 

We come now to the third element—the new worship and our money.  Read 13:5,6.  One of the key features of this worship lifestyle is that our lives are to be characterized by freedom from the love of money, by material contentment rather than by materialistic greed.  We can worship God this way because God has promised to care for us and meet our material needs. 

What a radical, counter-cultural form of worship—especially in our setting!  We live in a culture that spends billions of dollars every year in advertising to stimulate avarice and discontent with what we have.  We live in a culture whose economy is built to a great degree on consumer spending on non-essential luxuries (BUSH AFTER 9/11: “GO SHOPPING!”).

How would you know if you are worshiping God in this way?

On the one hand, we should avoid simplistic answers—such as the amount of your salary, the value of your house, how much you spent for your car, etc.  This form of worship, like all forms of the new worship, is rooted in our heart attitude rather than these outward things.  That’s why it’s possible to have very little materially and be full of money-lust and material discontent.  That’s why it’s also possible to have material abundance and be largely free from money-lust and be content.

On the other hand, there must be some outward manifestation of this form of worship, or there would be no sense in even talking about it.  I’ll suggest a couple of ways we can monitor the quality of our worship in this area—whether our consumer credit debt is growing or diminishing, and whether our charitable giving is growing or diminishing.  The direction of our credit debt is significant, because credit debt is (usually) accumulated when we spend more on non-essentials than we make—and this indicates that we’re not content with what we have.  Likewise, the direction of our charitable giving is significant because frugality that ends in selfish hoarding (like Scrooge) is not worshiping God—while contentment that leads to generosity is loving people, which is central to worshiping God (Heb.13:1-3 >16).

Evaluated by these two standards, American Christians aren’t worshipping God very well at all!  There is no measurable difference between American Christians and other Americans in their ever-growing credit debt.  And there is virtually no difference between American Christians and other Americans in charitable giving.1  How are you doing here?

If you’re like me, you know that your worship in this area can get a lot better.  Let’s turn to a parallel passage that gives us four practical steps we can take to improve the quality of this part of our worship—1Tim.6:8-19.

#1: Reject materialism’s empty promises

Read 1Tim.6:8—note the same subject of material contentment.  Read 6:9-11a.  The first step is to reject materialism’s empty promises.  Notice the uncompromising language in these verses—Paul is adamant that all (not some) who seek happiness, security or significance through material wealth will be bitterly disappointed.  You may think you will be the exception, but you won’t.  You will wind up hurting yourself very badly if you go down this path.

Of course, this is directly contradictory to the “American Dream” propaganda that is hammered into us from birth.  This sounds more like what we are (rightly) warned against concerning drug addiction.  If you replace “want to get rich” and “the love of money” and “eager for money” with “become substance abusers” and “drug addiction” and “eager for more drugs,” this warning makes intuitive sense to us.  But Paul is saying that money-lust will destroy your life just as certainly as drug addiction!  Consider these dangers:

It can lure you into crippling debt from which it can take years to recover.  Many of you know this from bitter experience!

It can lure you into unethical and illegal activities (CHEATING I.R.S.; ENRON CONVICTS).

It can sap time and energy that should be invested in your marriage and children.  Financial problems are one of the top contributors to marital failure.  How many Americans wind up wealthy, but divorced and alienated from their children?

It can lure you into false teaching that justifies materialism (6:10b).  How many Christians buy into the Health-Wealth heresy and get bilked by some leader who lives lavishly at their expense?

Worst of all, it can distract you from depending on God—and therefore prevent you from living a spiritually productive life (Mk.4:19,20; EXAMPLES).

Do you have convictions about the truthfulness of Paul’s warning?  Are you not only amused, but also outraged, by commercials that link wealth with happiness (PACIFIC LIFE: “When my wife and I retire, we can do this whenever we like!”)?  Are your convictions growing and deepening, or are they being gradually weakened by qualifications?  Are you in more danger of fanaticism in this area—or of selling out?

Rejecting materialism’s empty promises is necessary if you want to worship God in this area—but it’s not enough.  Negative warnings may wake us up and motivate short-term change, but deep-seated, long-lasting change requires the positive motivation that comes from experiencing a healthy alternative.  That’s why Paul doesn’t stop with “flee from these things”—he also says “pursue...”  Let’s look at the three positive replacementshe points us to...

#2: Embrace & pursue God’s purpose for your life

 Read 6:11b,12,14.  Timothy is not only to flee from materialistic lust—he is also to pursue God’s good and significant purpose for his life.  Paul speaks of God’s purpose in two ways—growth in godly character (6:11b) and faithfulness to the specific ministry role God gave Timothy (6:12,14).  The implication is that as long as Timothy is experiencing the real thing (satisfaction of giving his life for God’s purpose), he will be free from the counterfeit (love of money and material discontent).

How true this is!  This is what one author calls the “expulsive power of a new affection.”

When I met Christ in my late teens, I was obsessed with having the best car I could afford, the best stereo, the best clothes, etc.  I had never given money away, and I worried a lot about having enough money, even though I always had an ample savings account.  Fast-forward eight years—I was driving a 15 year old junker, I had the same stereo, I wore clothes from the Volunteers of America, we had virtually no savings—and yet I gave regularly and was far less worried about money.  There was one and only one reason for this change.  I had discovered the excitement and satisfaction of living for Christ.  Learning his Word, seeing him change my life, discovering that he had gifted me to teach his Word, helping other people meet Christ and grow in him—and doing this with Christian friends—this way of life was so exciting and fulfilling that I didn’t miss the toys and I didn’t worry about not having enough to live on.  To this day, I see a direct connection between my pursuit of God’s purpose and freedom from money-lust.

And I have seen this over and over again with others through the years.  Christians who hold back from selling out to God’s purpose for their lives almost always wind up enmeshed in materialism.  They can’t experience the joy and satisfaction of God’s love and power coursing through their lives to help others—so they are drawn back into the counterfeit stimulation of getting more things.  They can’t experience the security of God meeting their needs—so they are drawn back into the “worries of the world.”  But when I see someone “get it”—that sharing Christ and mentoring younger Christians and using their spiritual gifts to advance God’s kingdom is the heart of their Christian life—then I know they are far less vulnerable to money-lust.

How about you?  Are you convicted about being too attached to money and things—but unable to liberate yourself from this?  You have to replace it with the adventure of following Jesus!  If you’ve never done so before, open your heart and invite him in.  If you have him in your heart, abandon yourself to follow him into the life of self-giving love that he has planned for you!

#3: Cultivate enjoyment of the things God richly supplies

Read 6:17.  (By the way, almost every one of us is “rich in this present world.”  Americans live in 98th – 99th percentile of wealth compared to other countries.)  Notice that Paul refers to the rich in the third person (“those”), but then he switches to the second person (“us”).  God richly supplies all of us (not just the rich) with things for us to enjoy—and cultivating enjoyment of these things is a key to worshiping God in this way.

What are these things?  They are the “simple things” of life that are free—or nearly free.

Physically, God supplies us with the amazing beauty and bounty of nature (tasty meal; walk in park; etc.) and the ability to use our bodies to engage nature (exercise).

Intellectually, God supplies us with the ability to enjoy learning, reading a good book, etc.

Aesthetically, God supplies us with the ability to enjoy music, art, etc.

Relationally, God supplies us with the ability to enjoy people (spouse & children; friends; getting to know neighbors and new people; etc.).

I love to multi-task in this area: run along the river on a frosty morning while talking with friends; discussing a good book with others around a fire with good food and drink; throwing the football with friends and family after Thanksgiving dinner, etc.

The more you attune yourself to appreciate and enjoy these things (along with #2), the more rich you realize you really are—and the less you feel the need for constant materialistic stimulation.

#4: Practice consistent & creative generosity

Read 6:18,19.  Here is the fourth key to worshiping God by being free from the love of money and being content with what you have—be generous with your money.  Heb.13:16 makes this connection also (read).  Generosity involves both consistent, disciplined giving to ongoing ministries as well as creative, spontaneous giving to one-time needs.

When you see through materialism’s lies, and sell out to God’s purpose for your life, and learn to enjoy his simple blessings—you usually have more money left over because you’re not wasting it on frivolous acquisitions.  This means you have more to share with others who need it. 

There are many in this room who are exemplary in this way of worshiping God.  Many of us give away 20%-30% of our income each year to a variety of ministries—this church, missionaries, sponsoring children in developing countries, humanitarian aid in Christ’s name, scholarships for inner-city children, etc.  We do it for many reasons:

Because giving significantly protects us from materialistic greed (ME WITH BUILDING FUND CHECKS)

Because giving in this way increases our excitement about God’s purpose for our lives (Lk.12:34)

Because our good conscience enables us to enjoy even more the things God supplies

Because we anticipate a rich reward in the next life (6:19)

Listen to Matt & Tammy Boone describe why they love worshiping God this way (VIDEO).

Maybe this is the step God is calling on you to take in this area of worship...

Recommend Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger & Neither Poverty Nor Riches.  Recommend the upcoming Personal Finance workshop.

1 “The amount of American giving to charitable organizations of all kinds remains relatively constant at somewhere between 1.6% and 2.16% of a family’s income.  American Christians do only slightly better, averaging somewhere around 2.4% of the national per capita income.”  “In most... suburban Western communities, it is impossible to detect any outward differences between the expenditures of professing Christians and the religiously unaffiliated who surround them in their neighborhoods.”  Craig L. Blomberg, Neither Riches Nor Poverty: A Biblical Theology of Possessions (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp.19,20.