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Every year at this time the parking lot at the YMCA, where I swim, is packed out. It’s hard to find a parking place. The lot is filled with people that the Y sometimes refers to as “resolutionists,” not revolutionists, but “resolutionists.”
They’re well-meaning men and women who’ve made a new year’s resolution to get in shape. They’ve made a commitment to exercise and take care of their bodies and are trying to get off to a fresh start.
They want to begin the New Year with some good health habits. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a good thing. In fact, it’s always a good time to start good physical habits.
The beginning of a new year is also a good time to develop some good financial habits. Not only do we want to be physically fit, but we want to be fiscally fit as well. We want to be good stewards, not just of our bodies, but of all the resources God has entrusted to us. So I’ve titled today’s teaching “Financial Fitness.”
Back in April we did a five-part financial series called Spent: In ____ We Trust. We realized that it had been a long time since we had done a series on finances around here. It was well over due. And your response was wonderful. In fact, out of that series a number of you took a next step and enrolled in our nine-week Financial Peace University. If you missed it, no worries, we’re planning to offer Financial Peace again this year.
But we also made a commitment to talk more often about finances around here because how we handle our money is a big part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. So if this sounds like a review that’s good. We need to be reminded often of what’s most important in life.
The disciples heard Jesus talk a lot about money. Not because Jesus wants our money, but because Jesus wants our hearts. And he knew that the love of money can get in the way of giving him our hearts.
Two-thirds of his parables make some reference to the handling of money. In fact, Jesus said more about the way we handle our money and our stuff than he said about any other subject, more than heaven or hell combined.
Jesus taught that the two most tangible indicators of our heart are not how much we read the Bible and pray, as important as that is. In fact, we just devoted a whole series to prayer. Not how often we “go to church” and share our faith, as good as those things are. The two most tangible indicators of our heart, according to Jesus, are the words that come out of our mouth and the way we handle our money.
In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said, For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. And in Matthew 6:21 he says, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Our mouth and our money, our words and our wallet reveal more about what’s in our heart than anything else. Why’s that? Because what we talk about and what we spend our money on are the things that matter most to us.
So I want to revisit one of the parables from the Spent series and make some fresh observations this morning. If you have a Bible turn with me to Matthew 25:14-30, “The kingdom of heaven will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22The man with the two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Wow! This is a sobering story with some very disturbing words meant to grab our attention. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be thrown out into the cold darkness when the master returns. I want to be where it’s safe and warm. I don’t want to be the lazy, worthless servant either. I want to hear those words “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And I’m sure you do too. So I want to drill down deeper into this story and make four simple observations that will help us hear those words one day and can lead us into financial fitness as we begin 2017.
First, God owns it all. He’s the master in the parable. We’re not. He’s the one in charge. Not us. We’re simply managers of what he owns. The bags of gold in this passage certainly include our financial resources and possessions, but they go way beyond our money. They apply to every good thing we have in life – our gifts, our talents, our health, our relationships, our kids, our life experiences. God owns everything we have. We are only managers of the master’s rich estate and our responsibility is to steward well all he’s given us.
Jesus doesn’t ask us to surrender some things to his Lordship. He asks us to surrender everything to his Lordship because he owns it all. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all who live in it, Psalm 24:1. Do you live in the world? Then you belong to the Lord, my friend. And that’s a good thing.
Whenever Jennifer and I do financial counseling we always start with the principle that God owns it all. We just sang, “You can have it all, Lord, every part of my world. Take this heart and breathe on, this heart that is now yours.”
I’m convinced the first step to financial fitness is to realize that God owns it all. He’s the true source of everything we have and we need to thank him for that. [Take a moment to do that.]
Second, God determines our wealth. Ultimately, he decides how much of his estate he’ll entrust to us. He determines who gets five bags and who gets two bags and who gets one bag of gold. We’re not all created equal that way. There’s a lot of diversity among us. And that’s also a good thing. We don’t need two of me and we don’t two of you either! One’s enough!
We’re not all created equal that way, but we’re all given equal responsibility and that’s to work for the master. So we’re not to focus on what he’s given others. We’re to focus on what he’s given us and thank him for that. There will always be someone with more stuff and someone with less stuff. Comparison is a dead end street. Don’t go down there. Instead, you focus on your responsibilities and I’ll focus on mine.
It’s interesting to me that the servant who was most afraid of losing their stuff wasn’t the servant who had the most to lose. He was the one who had the least to lose. Sometimes we think that those who have lots of resources must be greedy. They must be driven by wealth. That’s not true. In many cases those who have the most stuff are the ones who’ve invested well in God’s kingdom. They’re often the most generous. And Jesus trusts them with even more so that they have more to give away. So thank God that he’s given you just what he thinks you can handle. Not too much. Not too little. [Thank him now.]
God owns it all. God determines our wealth. And third, we’re all rich.
You heard me. We’re all rich. I know you may not feel rich today especially with all the Christmas bills coming due, but we are. A talent was a huge sum of money in Jesus’ day. Even the servant that received one talent was filthy rich.
We don’t use talents today as a measure of currency, but scholars tell us that a talent weighed about 75 pounds. At the current price of gold, which is around $1,167 a troy ounce, one talent translates into about $1.3 million dollars!
So five talents are about $6.5 mill and ten talents are about $13 mill. Jesus’ original audience would have gasped at these amounts. Every one of these servants was a millionaire when it came to their ability to serve the master. Jesus isn’t talking about chump change here. He’s talking about a master who lavishes us with all kinds of good gifts. We’re all rich in him. Our master is not stingy. He’s generous and he wants to give us even more if we invest what we have well.
At the start of 2017, I want to remind you that Jesus is still looking for wise and trustworthy stewards. And how do we show the master that we’re wise and trustworthy?
Well, certainly not by hiding our talent in the ground and saying “woe is me” and acting like we’re poor victims. No. We show the master that we’re wise and trustworthy by taking a risk and investing our talents, all of them, to serve Christ and his kingdom. That certainly means our money and possessions. But it goes way beyond that to include our gifts, our talents, our health, our relationships, our life experiences. Everything.
Jesus is looking for us to be “all in” when it comes to stewarding what he’s so lavishly given us. Where do you need to get in the game? Where do you need to take a risk for the master? That’s the question we all need to ask ourselves. What risk do we need to take for the master this year? When it comes to our resources, giving them away can feel like a risk. But I assure you, based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, that whatever risk you take for the king will be rewarded.
We each have a mission to accomplish on this earth. We’re not just waiting for the Lord to return or to take us home which will be amazing. But until that time comes he wants us all to be busy about his business, using our talents to glorify God, serving the common good, and furthering his kingdom in this world. He wants us to produce a return on his investment in us.
And what that looks like for you and what that looks like for me may be very different, because we’re all very different. But the responsibility is the same if we’re going to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” [So take a moment of quiet right and listen to what risk God may be asking you to take. It may come now or it may come later. But be open to it.]
God owns it all. God determines our wealth. We’re all rich. And fourth, God will hold us accountable.
This parable is not about our salvation or about working our way into heaven by how faithful we are. We’re all saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Period. It’s faith in Christ that saves. That’s clear in the Scriptures from cover to cover. This story is not about getting into heaven.
Scholars are divided over what “outer darkness” means. Some believe it means hell. But others believe that it means loss of reward in the kingdom. In other words, the servant who buried his talent enters the kingdom. He is a servant after all, but he’s not rewarded in the kingdom. He doesn’t participate in the marriage feast in the lighted banquet hall that Jesus talks about in Matthew 8. He’s in the kingdom, but not at the banquet. Instead, he’s cast outside into the darkness.
In other words, the opposite of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” is not going to hell if we’re a believer in Jesus, but losing rewards in the kingdom. We will either be rewarded or disciplined for how we’ve managed the resources God has given us. And so the lazy servant loses his bag of gold and the privilege of participating in the marriage feast.
That’s the interpretation I favor, but regardless of how you understand it, I’m confident that none of us wants to be that lazy servant. We don’t want to hang out in the darkness. We want to be in the light and hear those words, “Well done.” And we will one day if we steward well what God has given us. That includes our finances, certainly. God wants us to give generously to his work in the world. But it goes way beyond that to include our whole life as well.
The YMCA has been packed all week with resolutionists. I’ve seen people there that I’ve never seen before. They want to start 2017 well when it comes to their physical health. And we want to start 2017 well when it comes to our financial health and our commitment to be good stewards of God’s estate. And that begins when we realize that God owns it all. God determines our wealth. We’re all rich. And God will hold us all accountable for our investments.