God and Money

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The Bible in I Cor 1:18 says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but it is the power of God to those who are being saved. Paul goes on to say in 1:20 that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. In 1:25 Paul says that the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. In 2:6 Paul tells of God's secret, hidden wisdom that God destined for our glory before time began. Finally, in verse 13 Paul says that he spoke not in words of human wisdom but in words taught by the Holy Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

Here Paul is contrasting the ultimate futility of the world's wisdom with the ultimate truthfulness and powerfulness of God's wisdom. He is talking about the upside downness of the cultural principles of the Kingdom of God compared to the cultural values of the economic, capitalistic culture we live in.

What we are going to talk about today is totally antithetical to our capitalistic culture's values. I want to warn you up front that you will have to consciously struggle to understand and put into practice the truth and power of the foolishness of God's upside down principles about money and grace in the Kingdom of God.

At Urbana this year, we have heard a lot abut our King Jesus and the Kingdom of God. However, there are two mega-Kingdoms that are in mega-conflict. We must choose which one Kingdom we will be citizens of. We will either be citizens of the Kingdom of God or citizens of the Kingdom of this world, or more specifically the Kingdom of Materialism.

Geri Rodman on Sunday evening told the stories of herself and two friends who came to Urbana together. All three made commitments to follow Jesus at that Urbana . Remember how one friend subsequently chose to live in the Kingdom of Materialism, and Geri, herself, spent eight years there.

The Bible has a lot to say about materialism, money, and wealth. Our purpose today is to dig as deep as we can into the Bible for the next hour so we can make the right choice between the two Kingdoms.

Wealth in the Context of God's Economic System for Israel

Material wealth as God's blessing in Old Testament was modest. This was because, if it was God's blessing, it was in the context of Jubilee which was the linchpin of God's economic system for Israel.

What was Jubilee? God said that the Promised Land was His and that the Israelites were just aliens and tenants on His land. When Israel arrived in the Promised Land, God gave every family enough land so each family could live comfortably and participate fully in the community according to God's principles and statutes. This land was the family's permanent inheritance, and it could not be sold permanently. An Israelite could only sell the use of his land until the next Jubilee. Jubilee was the year after the seventh Sabbath year; i.e. it occurred every 50 years.

There was a related parallel principle called the Sabbath Year in which three things happened: all debts were canceled, all indentured servants were freed, and the land was not actively farmed; it "rested".

Here's how Jubilee worked. If the family leader became ill and could not work the land, or if he was what Proverbs calls a sluggard or a fool, he could sell the use of his land until the next Jubilee; however, he could not sell the land itself. After he used up that money, he would have to offer himself and his family as indentured servants to another land owner At the end of seven years or at Jubilee, whichever occurred first, the servant family was released with a liberal supply of animals, grain, and wine so it could start over. When Jubilee came it was God's command that the family return to their original property–-it was not an option, it was a command.

What was to be the result of God's economic system for Israel? There were to be no permanently poor. Since wealth consisted of the land and animals, everyone had the opportunity to experience God's blessing of modest wealth, but no one could become really rich.

This was the basic economic system that God specified for Israel and the use of His land. God said that as a result of this economic system there should be no poor:

"However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none." (Deut 15:4-6)

However, God quickly adds in Deuteronomy 15:11 that there would always be poor people in the land. This would occur for at least two reasons: some people would not manage their land properly and successfully, and some people would be oppressed by those who wanted more land than God allowed.

Jubilee and the Sabbath Year are described in detail in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. There are a lot of details that are important that we do not have time to talk about today. I would strongly recommend that you spend several days meditating in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15. They are rich with guidelines about how we should limit our wealth and share our wealth with fellow-believers today.

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of references to wealth as a blessing of God. However, they must always be read in the context of the restraints on wealth found in God's economic system for Israel. Psalm 112 is a perfect example.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who is ardently devoted to his commands. His children will be mighty in the land; a blessed generation of upright men. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteous kindness endures forever. Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for He is gracious and compassionate and righteous. Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his business with justice and integrity. Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes. He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteous kindness endures forever; he will be powerful and respected...

Here the right and righteous use of wealth is shown in the full context of a man who is blessed because he fears the Lord, is ardently devoted to His commands, and uses his wealth for the benefit of the poor.

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