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Psalm 49-Wealth is not all it’s cracked up to be

The Psalms teach us many things. They are considered part of the word of God according to Jesus (Luke 24:44) and many of the things written about the Messiah come from the Psalms. They give us wisdom and understanding in important areas of our life.

Last Sunday (May 20th), the morning lesson came from Psalm 49. It shares with us a proper perspective on life and how we are not to be led astray by chasing after riches nor are we to be worried by the oppression that may come from those who do.

Those chasing wealth may think they can reach for their wallet or checkbook in the judgement but they will not find enough even if they own the whole world. (Mt 16:26)

Remember this: Whatever you have in money or whatever you could accumulate in money will never, ever come close to the price that your soul is worth. Therefore coveting wealth is the errand of the fool and the wise man will put his priorities on serving God.

You can listen to the sermon here.

 

Godliness vs. Asceticism

Yesterday, we talked about bodily exercise in relationship to godliness. Paul uses this metaphor to encourage Timothy toward a life of godliness. However, it is not the physical exercise that Paul is really warning Timothy about. Paul’s main point, starting in chapter 4, is to warn Timothy about those who will depart from the faith and practice an ascetic life thinking it will produce benefit. This departure is not simply because they are tired of Christian living but because they pay attention to “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons”.

It is not the ones drawn away that are the real problem but those who draw them away by insincere lies and teachings that, for all practical purposes, are the teachings of asceticism. The forbidding of marriage, requiring abstinence from certain foods, and all such types of “irreverent and silly myths”  are only, in reality, an appearance of piety.

They offer no true benefit:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  (Col 2:20-23 ESV)

It is that stopping of the fleshly indulgences that Godliness is able to help with.

Asceticism does seem to help answer some of life’s more difficult questions. The Ascetic believes that by abstaining from worldly pleasures one can achieve a more spiritual or enlightened state. Paul’s warning may be an early indication of Gnosticism beginning in some areas of the Christian faith. When one renounces worldly pleasures and goods, it is easier to answer those hard questions such as:

  • How much do I give to the church or others?
  • How much car should I buy?
  • How big of a house should I get?
  • How much “bling” do I buy in clothes or toys?

The answers are to give more, buy less, do without and avoid purchases that you do not need. Living an austere life then becomes the measuring stick. You also are more able to judge others by how they stack up to your level of austerity. If they have more, buy more, enjoy life more, then they are not as pious as you are. The whole attitude is one of self-will, self-control, or will power. Without the proper motivation and purpose, it is doomed to fail.

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Godliness, on the other hand, also answers these questions but does so with a different attitude. Godliness, is not an outward, mechanical, rote action that by itself has some value. You can not say because you spend 5 hours in prayer that you are more godly than the person who spends 1 hour in prayer, even though prayer is something that a godly person will engage in. That is the type of trap the Pharisee fell into and Jesus warns about:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luk 18:9-14 ESV)

1918 photograph Entstrom

Godliness answers these questions from the heart. With a Godward attitude, one is first grateful to God for what he has and then because he knows God is a generous God, he is then able to let go of things this world promotes. Why? Because they are sinful? To be sure, some are but many are not. The Why is answered by what distracts him from putting God first in his life.  I have no doubt that Abraham and Job were godly men. Their riches did not prevent them from serving God. If they will prevent you from doing so, then by all means, get rid of them, for it is better to enter into Heaven, poor and destitute, than to be cast into Hell with all of your riches (which will be burnt up, in a short nanosecond anyway.) You do not see a U-haul following a hearse.

Paul encourages Timothy to train for godliness, but he will not be able to do so if he goes to the extreme that Asceticism would require. What examples to you have, were Asceticism was being promoted to try and improve godliness?

Moth eaten treasure

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. (Jas 5:1-3)

If there is anything more distressing to a person of means, it is losing the very thing that you were relying on to get your through your golden years. What do you rely on?

I have known people at my previous employer who had put all their 401k contributions into company stock. When the stock market dropped and their 401k turned into a 203b, they were devastated. Some had this happen just 2 years before they were ready to retire and it pushed off retirement. Jesus warned us in the parable of the sower about the deceitfulness of riches and they do promise a security that is not real.

Here James is pointing out to the rich that they are going to have problems. As some have suggested, this may apply to the Jewish Christians who would suffer as Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD. The Jewish economy going downhill would have an effect on them. Even as the American economy going downhill would have (or has had) an effect of us.

I also wonder if James is referring to the quantity of riches that they have. So much gold that it corrodes, so much clothing that you can’t wear it and the moths eat it. Who needs 3000 pairs of shoes? The corrosion of their gold and silver, the fact that they have so much it will corrode is evidence against those who are rich. It is evidence of their lack of Love as he will show in the next few verses and in particular he says that the quantity is theirs by fraud; fraud against their workers.

How much money is too much? The world will never know! However, a Christian should. For each one it will be different, but the one thing you don’t want to do is to cross over into covetousness as these Christians were doing. Money is here for a purpose. God provides it and always has for our use and to His Glory.

When you spend money to buy food, clothing and shelter. When you spend money to educate your family and meet your obligations to raise them and protect them, God gets glory. It doesn’t all come from giving to others. Of course, when you give to others, it also is for God’s glory. A 5 million dollar bank account at your death will only pass to your heirs. Who knows if they will be wise or foolish.

Riches are not the problem. It is great to have an inheritance to leave your family. However, the money left pales by far to the value of the training that a parent leaves their children. (Consider carefully how much you should heap up or leave them.)  The problem is when we love riches so much that we are willing to not do the right thing (see yesterday’s blog) which then becomes sin. We hoard, we defraud, we lie, we plan without God, all in the name of making the next shekel.

One last thought: When James says “you have laid up treasure for the last days”, it does not sound like it is the treasure that they are supposed to have laid up. It sounds like it might be the treasure of wrath rather than joy as they meet the Lord who left all He had to die for us.

The subject of riches and how to use them is an important one. Passages all over the Bible talk about it. James does not condemn the rich for being rich, he condemns them for the way they have gained and use their riches. In my country, more are rich than are willing to consider themselves to be rich. If we have food and clothing (and two TVs, a cell phone, a DVD player, Cable, hi speed internet, the latest fashions, and a cool car) with these we will be content. Please notice the sarcasm.

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