money

Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, Psalm 12

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 13, Nehemiah 2, and Psalm 12.

This devotional is about Genesis 13.

Abram and Lot must have had some kind of close personal relationship. Genesis 11:31 told us that Lot was Abram’s nephew. The fact that Lot went with Abram (12:4) when Abram left Ur suggests a close, personal friendship between Abram and Lot, one where Abram was most likely a mentor that Lot looked up to.

God had promised, in Genesis 12:3, that he would bless anyone who blessed Abram. Lot’s personal association with Abram sure seems to have brought God’s blessing to Lot’s family. As we read today in Genesis 13:6, Lot and Abram became so wealthy that “they were not able to stay together.” So, they separated themselves geographically and Abram graciously gave Lot the power to choose which land each of them would inhabit (vv. 8-9).

Verse 10 told us that Lot made his decision based on what would benefit him most economically. As a rancher, a “well watered” plain “like the garden of the Lord” would provide the best environment for Lot’s flocks and herds to thrive, contributing bigly to Lot’s bottom line. So Abram and Lot parted for economic reasons and Lot chose his next home for economic reasons.

Verse 12 told us that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” The next verse told us that Sodom was inhabited by wicked men. When I was growing up, messages I heard on this text suggested (maybe even stated directly) that Lot “pitched his tents near Sodom” because he was curious about the wicked lifestyle of the people who lived there. I don’t think that is correct, based on 2 Peter 2:7-8. I think Lot lived near the cities, especially Sodom, because it gave him a great market for his livestock. So, again, he chose what was best for himself and his family’s prosperity despite the spiritual threats Sodom would pose to his family.

I believe the prosperity gospel is wrong, a heretical distortion of the gospel. But I don’t believe that prosperity is wrong; in fact, I believe that we should prosper---unless God chooses not to allow us to prosper--because our faith causes us to work hard and act prudently with money. So, I’m pro-economic growth for all of us within the sovereign and the moral will of God.

But, if prosperity drives all of our decisions, we will make bad moral choices (see 1 Timothy 6:10). This happened to Lot, as we’ll see.

How about you and me? Do we choose to take a job with a better salary without considering how it might affect our families? What about the choices we make when it comes to spending money? Are your kids enrolled where they are in high school or college because you can save money that way? Did the spiritual and moral costs of that decision factor into your choice? Money is important; we all need it to live and I pray for the prosperity of our church members within the will of God. But don’t let money drive you to make disastrous moral decisions.

Lot would have been so much better off if he had offered to reduce his flocks and herds so that he could stay with Abram. He probably wouldn’t have been better off economically--at least not at first--but he would have retained the moral example and instructions from Abram which would have benefited him in every area of his life. Be wise; don’t allow every big decision you make to be decided only to the money needed.

1 Timothy 6

Today read 1 Timothy 6.

What motivates people who teach false doctrine? According to verse 4, it is pride: “they are conceited.” And, wouldn’t you have to be? To set forth your own ideas as if they were scripture, one would need an over-inflated self-confidence. Another motivation is greed; verse 5 says that false teachers “think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

Instead of bringing us wealth, however, godliness teaches us contentment. Verses 6-8 say, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” This world has many nice things to offer but the person who accumulates them all will leave them all behind when he dies. When Steve Jobs died in 2011, he was worth over $10 billion but a beggar who died with nothing on the same day took the same amount of wealth into eternity. As Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” If you walk with God, however, and learn to trust him, having the basics will be all that you need. Again 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

This is what false teachers miss. They think that novel ideas about God will be a path to wealth that will given them satisfaction. Instead, they may find prosperity but miss the real gain of walking with God--a life of true satisfaction.

Are you content with what you have? Or do you think that more of something (or everything) will bring you more satisfaction? Money doesn’t by happiness but godliness brings contentment. Focus on your walk with God and let him satisfy you as no material thing can.

Proverbs 21:15-31

Today’s reading is Proverbs 21:15-31.

You’ve heard people say, “We live hand to mouth.” Maybe you’ve even said it. When someone says that, they are telling you that they do not save anything. Whatever they earn in income is immediately consumed. Every penny is spent and, with easy credit these days, many people have already spent more money than they will earn for many paychecks to come.

This is the American way, unfortunately.

But it isn’t the wise way. According to Proverbs 15:20, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Remember that wisdom has a moral quality to it in Proverbs. The way of the wise isn’t just something that smart people do; it is what godly people do. If a person takes God’s word seriously, that person knows that God created people to work and provide for ourselves. Also, God’s word tells us to prepare for difficult days. These revelations from God’s word are what cause a wise man to “store up choice food and olive oil.” A believer in God understands that difficult days will come so he prepares for them by saving.

A fool, by contrast, is a consumer. He or she craves the experience of pleasure, the excitement of new purchases, the status provided by nice things. Instead of saving, then, the foolish consumes everything as soon as it comes in. And so, verse 17 of our passage today prophesies, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.”

A person’s savings or lack of savings is not the only indicator of faith and godliness. Every Christian has areas where they are doing well and areas they need to improve. If you’re reading these devotionals every day, you’re taking a positive step toward a holy life. If you’re putting into practice the things that you read, that’s even more important. Maybe today’s proverbs will give you a new area in your life to work on for developing godliness. If you’re not saving anything, understand that is both a financial and spiritual problem, then ask the Lord to help you curb your spending and start saving.

An excellent first step on this would be to sign up for Financial Peace University this fall, which we are offering as one of our small groups. You can sign up for it on Sunday in your response cards or go to http://calvarysmallgroups.com and register for it right now.

Philippians 4

Today, read Philippians 4.

When we read Philippians 1, last Thursday, I described to you the giving track record of the church in Philippi. Thanking the Philippians for their financial support was one of the key reasons that Paul wrote this letter. We saw that in verse 10 when we read, “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.” Later in verse 14 Paul wrote, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles” then he went on to describe different times that this church had sent him money:

  • “when I set out from Macedonia” (v. 15b)
  • “when I was in Thessalonica... more than once” (v. 16)
  • “now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent” (v. 18c).

The result of this most recent gift was that Paul was “amply supplied” (v. 18b). Their giving allowed him to rent a house in Rome for two years (Acts 28:30a) while he awaited trial there. Although he was under house arrest, Acts 28:30b-31 records that Paul “...welcomed all who came to see him [and that h]e proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” Although Paul used this money to pay for his personal needs, having his personal needs taken care of allowed him to serve the Lord. So Paul could tell the Philippian church here in chapter 4:18b that their gifts were, “...a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Years ago we brought in someone to do ministry here at Calvary and one of our members at the time asked me if he was being paid. I answered truthfully that, yes, of course he was being paid. The member in question suggested (not subtly) that his work was not really ministry since he was being paid. I’m not often dumbfounded, but I was then. ”I get paid by the church,” I finally managed to tell her. She had no problem with that, but an outsider was somehow not a legitimate servant of God because he was paid for his work. There are plenty of scriptural passages that refute her, including one from my message Sunday, Luke 10:7, “Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages” (emphasis added). Yet even though God’s servants consume what is paid to them or even prosper from it, that does not detract from the fact that their work is done for the Lord. Paul saw the gifts that the Philippians sent him as timely provisions for his needs--yes--but also as acts of worship to God. Remember those words in verse 18: “They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Do you believe that? Do you believe that giving to God’s church, God’s servants, God’s work, and even the poor, are actually gifts to God himself? Do you believe what verse 19 said, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”?

If you believe these things, are you giving faithfully to the Lord’s work?

2 Corinthians 8

And, today read 2 Corinthians 8.

Way back on May 11 we read Acts 19, then broke off our reading of Acts to read the two letters to the Corinthians. It seems clear that Paul wrote both of these letters during the two years (Acts 19:10) that Paul was in Ephesus. In the middle of Acts 19, verse 21 says, “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia.” Corinth is in Achaia which is the southern peninsula of Greece. Paul’s purpose for going to Jerusalem by way of Macedonia and Achaia was to collect an offering from the churches in Greece to help the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering under a famine. Today’s reading, 2 Corinthians 8, discussed that offering for the believers in Jerusalem.

First Paul described the generosity of the Macedonian churches (vv. 1-5). Macedonia is the northern part of Greece and the churches there were the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and others. These churches were facing trials of their own (v. 2a) but were generous in their giving (vv. 2b-5). Paul used their example to encourage the Corinthians to give excellently (v. 7a) as well, which they had already promised to do (vv. 10-15). This chapter closed with a description about how Titus and someone else were coming to collect the offering from the Corinthians (vv. 16-24). In the middle of that section, verses 19-21 discussed the level of accountability that they used in carrying this gift. Paul said in verse 21, “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.”

In Paul’s world, people paid traveling speakers for their wisdom and even for religious instructions. That gave dishonest, unscrupulous people an opportunity to take advantage of people by asking for money “for a good cause” but keeping much, if not all, of it for themselves. Paul wanted to guard against the temptation to take that money (“to do what is right... in the eyes of the Lord,” v. 21) and against any appearance or accusation of stealing it (v. 21b: “but also in the eyes of man”). Accordingly, each church sent a representative with Paul to accompany this offering to Jerusalem. That way, there were plenty of witnesses that every dime collected was given to the Lord’s people.

Having good financial controls and accountability do not lift one’s spirit to worship. However, the Bible says repeatedly that someone’s attitude about money reflects that person’s walk with God. The Bible warns us again and again about false teachers who are looking for financial gain and for others who will use the Lord’s work as a means to wealth. Many ministries have been victims of embezzlement; others have enriched the ministers in ways that were perfectly legal but not righteous. These fiscal missteps are both sins because they take what was given to the Lord’s work for personal enrichment. I believe the Bible teaches us to give generously to the Lord’s work; I also believe that it requires us to handle the money given to the Lord’s work appropriately.

Ministries are not the only places where money can be embezzled or mishandled. If you are given the opportunity to handle an organization’s money, be someone who welcome’s good supervision and financial controls. They will protect you from false accusations as well as temptation.

Luke 21

Today we’re reading Luke 21.

Materialism is an ever-present temptation for us. We are material beings, after all, since we have these physical bodies. They need to be dressed and enhanced and housed and driven around; since God created us with an appreciation for beauty and we need physical goods to live, it is not surprising that beautiful physical possessions interest us. And, honestly, there is nothing sinful about having things; the Bible tells us that God’s creation is good (1 Tim 4:3-5).

The problem is not that we appreciate and enjoy material things; the problem is that we worship material things. We believe that they will make us happy and/or we think that having us will cause people to value us more highly. So we spend money recklessly or hoard money to accumulate wealth and its trappings.

Here in Luke 21, Jesus addressed our thirst for materialism. He began by talking about the poor widow who gave generously to God’s work in the temple (vv. 1-3). Knowing both how easily the rich could afford their gifts and how much this woman needed the money she gave, Jesus praised her for her faith and love for God. To Jesus this woman “has put in more than all the others” (v. 3). That was not true in terms of raw value but, relative to her means, it was very true. Instead of living for material things, she gave to God and trusted him to provide for her.

Although the disciples of Jesus lived by faith for their daily lives, they were still much too impressed with material things. As they praised the beautiful work in Herod’s temple (v. 5), Jesus prophesied about the destruction that would fall on the temple and all of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. in verses 6-33. Then he cautioned the disciples, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” The widow who gave her last bit of money did not need to worry about being “weighed down” by anything because everything in her life had been handed over to the Lord. This is how we should look at money and material things, too. May God help us not to trust in anything but him, not to worship anything but him, and not to let anything in this life weigh us down from following him with all of our hearts.

Deuteronomy 1, Psalms 81–82, Isaiah 29, 3 John

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 1, Psalms 81–82, Isaiah 29, 3 John. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 3 John.

One aspect of early Christianity that is often overlooked today is how early Christians welcomed and provided for those who were spreading the gospel around the world. This letter we know as 3 John gives us some insight into this practice. 

Christ commanded the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) but as they obeyed this command, the apostles needed a way to provide for their daily needs. Paul, the apostle, went to new areas with the gospel and either worked to provide for himself (Acts 18:1-3) or received funds from other churches he had started and established in the past (Acts 18:5, Phil 4:14-19). As the churches matured, they became more reliable in providing funds for those traveling to spread the gospel. Here in 3 John 5, John is commending the recipients of this letter for doing that. As verse 5 put it, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you.” Verse 7 clarifies this when it says, “It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans.” God’s servants “went out” to spread word about “the name” of Jesus; they did not charge the people they were seeking to win to Christ (v. 7b: “receiving no help from the pagans”). Instead, they relied on the faithful giving of other believers and churches (v. 5: “you are faithful in what you are doing…even though they are strangers to you”). 

John urges Gaius and the other believers with him (v. 14c) in 3 John to keep supporting anyone who comes through his area while traveling to spread the gospel. Verse 6b says this when John wrote, “Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.” Sending them “on their way” meant giving them the funds they needed to travel and survive. “In a manner that honors God” suggests that Gaius and his brothers fund the missionaries well. Verse 8 concludes this section by telling us that this is a principle that believers should follow: “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.” Those who provide financially for others who travel to spread the gospel are “work[ing] together for the truth;” in other words, their financial support is an act of partnership in the gospel. Even in the next section that sanctions Diotrephes for his selfish behavior, John includes his stinginess toward those traveling for the spread of the gospel as part of his criticism: “…he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” 

This section challenges us to consider our commitment to the spread of the gospel through missionaries. John’s statement that “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” invites us to be part of what God is doing in the world by supporting his servants who give the gospel full time. The expression, “Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God” encourages us to be generous in how we give; God’s servants deserve more than token amounts; they deserve generosity because of whom they serve. Finally, the phrase “you are faithful” reminds us that those who work for the spread of the gospel need an ongoing, steady supply of cash so that they can serve without distraction. If you’re giving faithfully, generously to the Lord’s work through missions (either through our church or in addition to your giving to our church), keep it up! Your giving means that you are working “together for the truth” with those involved in church planting and missions. If you’re not giving to God’s work, consider the impact that your faithful support could have for the spread of the gospel to the glory of God. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.