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Kingdom Economics: The Rich Young Ruler
Jesus doesn’t want your money; he wants you. You may thinking, “Yeah, the only
problem with religion is that God wants my money.” He will use your money when you
get it straight in your mind that he wants you. When our lives become all about Jesus,
several changes emerge in terms of paradigm attitude shift. You begin seeing that true
wealth is to have Jesus out in front of you, and in your pilgrimage .you’re pursuing
Christ rather than possessions or gain. Christ comes to really define life for you. We see
emerging “contentment” instead of “covetousness.” You will know you’re making
progress with Christ when suddenly there is wonderful subtleness of contentment in your
life. You will be content with what God has given you, and generosity will replace greed.
You will begin thinking of other people rather than yourself. Your life now will be marked
by the joy of generosity. Christ comes first; then, contentment follows, then generosity
and gratitude and humility because you can’t believe that God gave so much to you.
Joseph Stowell is former president of Moody Bible
Institute in Chicago. He preached this sermon at Generous Giving’s Texas regional
conference, San Antonio, Texas, November 5-6, 2004.
I walked into the commons at Moody Bible Institute sometime ago, and
somebody asked me, “How are you?” I said, “Better than I deserve.” And he
replied, “Oh, no you’re not.” I said, “Oh yes, because I deserve hell.” Anything above
that is by the grace of God, and we should respond with genuine humility, praise,
gratitude and worship. These concepts begin to emerge out of the Parable of the Rich
Fool that Jesus told in Luke 12. Jesus turned to the disciples, who were probably
thinking that he was talking to the pagans, and said to them:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about
your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.
Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God
feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying
can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you
worry about the rest?
“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even
Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the
grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much
more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will
eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and
your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be
given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the
kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that
will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes
near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
The Five Laws of the Kingdom Economy
The problem with riches or feeling the need for riches is that it not only blinds
you to your need for God, but it also diminishes your trust in him and puts all the trust
in yourself. The reason you feel so totally insecure in what you have is made clear in 1
Timothy 6:17: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor
to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly
provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” In these verses and the ones
mentioned above, Jesus is really laying out the laws of the kingdom economy.
Law 1: The earth-side economy is loaded with anxiety. What is
gained in the
market is always driven by greed and fear, thus frontloaded with anxiety. The kingdom
economy, on the other hand, is freedom from anxiety.
My wife, Martie, and I had a friend who is stuck in the blinding earth-side
economy. A portion of his portfolio, which began at about $16 million, dropped to about
$8 million. This guy was in total despair. I said, “And you still have $8 million?” He had
his boxers in a bunch and didn’t know what to do, despite the fact that he had $8
million left. God delivers us from these earth-side economics. If your portfolio drops a
significant amount or even to nothing and you really understand kingdom economy, you
won’t despair. God says not to worry because he’ll take care of you. He says, trust in
me; I am the provider for your needs. When we do this, we have freedom from anxiety
because we no longer place our trust in the uncertainty of riches. Our trust is placed in
Martie and I learned this lesson early on. I remember one time at the
beginning of our ministry, I was the pastor of a small church and was asked to speak at
a Sunday school awards banquet in another state. I thought, “What a great day for me.”
I got an ego boost and was sure I’d get an honorarium check. I was all fired up. At the
time we could hardly afford to fill a tank up of gas, but I drove over there, and I gave it
my best. At the end of the banquet, I expected the head honcho to walk up to me,
thank me for being there, and hand me an envelope. He came up, sure enough, and
thanked me very much for being there, but I received no envelope. I was a little
concerned at this point, so I actually stayed around and helped them set the whole
church gymnasium down. I was there until the last person was gone, and the head guy
came up to me again, probably thinking, “This guy’s got such a servant’s heart,” when,
of course, I had such a greedy heart. He thanked me again, but I still didn’t get the
envelope I expected.
This guy didn’t even pay for my gas, and I got home at 12:30 that night, and
I woke up the next morning totally consumed like the guy in the crowd in Luke 12. I was
saying, “Jesus, tell this pastor to divide the inheritance with me.” About three days later
the Holy Spirit put me in a full nelson and slammed me against the wall and said, “Joe,
now, why are you in this anyway? Are you in this for the money?” My heart was broken
on the spot, and my wife and I made a decision that has framed our whole lives. We
both got down on our knees and said, “God, we will never, ever serve you for money,
ever. You have our lives, and you are the supplier of our needs. We will give to you, and
you will take care of us. God, please forgive us for such a pagan, earth-side perspective
on our lives.”
The next day in the mail we got an envelope from the church. It was an
honorarium check and expenses, but God wanted to teach us a lesson before we got the
check so that we never needed to be anxious about our supply. We were called to give
ourselves to him, and he will supply our needs.
Law 2: The kingdom economy is a supply-side economic. Because
you are no longer anxious about what you have, now you can be free to buy into the
supply-side economic since God is the supplier. Once you’re into the non-anxiety zone
of kingdom economy, you can participate in the supply-side economy. The earth-side
economy says, “Get and keep.” The kingdom economy says, “Give, and you will get.”
Give yourself, your time and your treasure because your Father knows your needs and
will provide. This is a supply-side economic. Let me say, parenthetically, please never
give to get more. One of the horrible ideas that we’ve developed in the church is that if
you tithe, God will make you really rich, and that becomes the horrid motivation to give.
We should give out of a heart of worship to Christ because he is our leader and he will
take care of our needs. We give because we have a passion for what he is passionate
about. However, the nice sideline to that is that you will never give yourself into
desperate straits. As you give, God will supply.
I think the real test of whether you’re a supply-side Christian is whether you
can say, “OK, I have enough, so I’ll give the rest away.”
Law 3: Your net worth is secured in the kingdom economy. “How
much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24). In the kingdom economy your
net worth is not in your riches but in your relationship. In other words, your net worth is
not what you have; it’s in who has you. I think of Jeremiah 9, “Let not the wise man
boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his
riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me [...]”
Your net worth is secured because God cares for you. He’s not going to let you
go. Your net worth today might disappear tomorrow if you’re in the earth-side economy,
but in the kingdom economy you are secure.
Law 4: Liquidate for leverage. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? We’re
getting it the way it ought to be; our world doesn’t say liquidate for leverage. Our world
says accumulate for leverage. Jesus says that because you trust him, you don’t have to
be anxious. In other words, now that you know about the supply-side economic, now
that you know your net worth is in him and not in your money, sell what you have and
give to the needy. This is called liquidating for true eternal leverage.
I think it’s interesting that in the earth-side economy we were always
responders. In the kingdom economy you are an initiator, and you take what you have
and give generously. God doesn’t want everything; he wants your heart. He wants to
know that if he asked you for everything, you would give it. Sell and give, liquidate for
leverage. Like pastor and author Randy Alcorn says in his book The Treasure
Principle, “You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.” Give to the
needy, to the poor, spiritually and physically. I love the thought that when I give, I’m an
initiator, and heaven is the responder.
Law 5: When you are investing in the kingdom economy, you will find your
heart in a healthy place. I know a lot about you by the way you read your
newspaper. If you pick up your newspaper and go first thing to the front page, I know
you’re into current events. If the first place you go is to the stock page, I know that
you’re worried about your portfolio, and that’s where your heart is. If you pick up the
newspaper and go to the comic section, I know life’s driving you crazy and you need a
little levity. God knows where your heart is by where your treasures are. There isn’t one
Christian who doesn’t long to have his heart fully engaged with Christ. It’s a part of the
redemptive flame that you long for intimacy with God though maybe heavily layered by
the stuff of this world. You long for your heart to be his and to have a deeper taste of
him. The Bible says that if you want your heart there, then park your treasures there.
Your heart will be in a healthy place.
I know that wealthy people often feel that God has got it in for them. Some
wealthy people feel like God doesn’t really like wealthy people or that if God had his
way, he’d take it all away. Thus, we’re in this big tug-of-war all the time. Let me take
you to probably my favorite encounter of Christ, when a wealthy man whom we’ve
termed the rich young ruler, approached Christ. Understanding the hollowness of his
existence, thinking there might be something more, he said to him, “Good teacher,
what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus played with his Jewish theology and
said, “ ‘You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not
steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ ‘All these I have kept
since I was a boy,’ he said” (Luke 18:18, 20-21). For all of you who think that God’s got
something in for rich people, Mark says “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark
10:21). His heart was touched by this rich man, and he said, “You still lack one thing.
Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). Jesus was testing him when he asked him to sell
everything he had and give it to the poor, because if he would do that, he would be
unencumbered to follow Jesus. Nothing would ever tug him backward. This was only a
test; this isn’t the way of salvation.
Jesus loves you and doesn’t really want your money. He wants your
undiminished, non-negotiated love and loyalty. He wants your heart. That is what this
test is about. He doesn’t want anything getting in the way of the relationship with you
that he paid a great price for. He wants to know that if he asked you to sell everything,
and give to people who are in need, you do it because you love him and are absolutely
loyal to him. It’s like the test of Abraham and Isaac. God wasn’t going to require the
sacrifice of Isaac, but God wanted to know, “Abraham, do you love me more than
I want you to know that God loves you, and far more than your money, he
wants your heart. He wants you to love him without condition, to follow him with joy and
with nothing in the way.