18 Oct Church Reimagined: Why Money Matters
Church Reimagined: Why Money Matters
1 Timothy 6:6-19
October 18, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
Under the best of circumstances, talking about money in church is fraught with peril, a landmine that a lot of pastors avoid as much as possible. But 2020 can hardly be called “the best of circumstances.” How, then, are we supposed to talk about money when we have been physically separated for eight months and a global pandemic has upended virtually everything about our lives? And yet, Covid or no Covid, money plays a major role in our daily lives and also, though we sometimes don’t like to admit it, in our faith. It is impossible to imagine, let alone reimagine, church without talking about this core part of our lives.
A pastor in Colorado, growing a little peeved with people in her church complaining about discussions around money dealt with it by suggesting how they could become a church where parishioners are never asked for money. Instead of giving financially, the members would take turns doing everything in the church. They would clean the building and do all the maintenance and repairs. They would lead the music, prepare the bulletin, preach, and take care of the children. They would also spend one year each on the mission field because there would be no money to give to such endeavors. In winter, they would dress warmly for worship because they wouldn’t run the furnace. The pastor concluded by saying, “A church that needs no money wouldn’t be much of a church at all. I’m glad to be part of a church that always needs money. It means we’re doing something, going somewhere, and making a difference.”
The pastor made some additional worthy points in her sermon particularly focusing on all the good ways the church uses its money to meet the needs of its neighbors, and then she concluded by saying, “It’s a good thing the church is asking for money. What kind of church would the church be if it wasn’t always reaching out to help others? The local church is unarguably the best place to open our pocketbooks.”
It was a good sermon and a good response to the complaint that the church so often talks about money. But this it isn’t the whole response. The argument that the church should be asking for money because of all the good stuff we do has merit, but any worthy charity can make that case. The church isn’t simply a charity with a religious sheen on it and Christians aren’t just do-gooders who also pray.
In fact, doing good for others, often expressed biblically as “love your neighbor as yourself,” is the second of the two great commandments Jesus gives us. The first of them is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). For Christians, then, giving out of what we have has as much to do with the first great commandment as with the second one.
To say it another way, we give not only to do good for others but also because it’s necessary for our own spiritual well-being. It is part of the way we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
The apostle Paul gets at that in the first letter to Timothy, when he addresses the negative impact money can have on our souls. In our reading, Paul speaks of the benefit that comes to us “in godliness combined with contentment” and goes on to mention the basics — food and clothing — as sufficient. And then he warns about the dangers that the desire to be rich can bring: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (6:10).
Paul next addresses Timothy specifically, calling him a “man of God” by which he means a prophet, and telling Timothy to “shun all this.” In other words, some threats to our spiritual health — including the love of money — are so powerful yet so subtle that the best way to deal with them is to stay away from them altogether.
Obviously, we live in a world that runs on money. We cannot have a decent existence without money, and Paul is well aware of that. But he also recognizes that the lure of money and the acquisition of possessions it makes possible are so dangerous to our souls that we need to be intentional about defanging them. And one of the best ways to do that is by opening our hands and giving some of it away.
That’s why later on in the same chapter, Paul addresses Christians “who in the present age are rich.” He tells them not to allow their wealth to make them “haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches.” Rather, Paul says, they should set their hope “on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” And lest they miss the point, he spells it out: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Notice that Paul doesn’t say they should be generous and ready to share because it’s good for others, though no doubt he would agree with that. Instead, he says they should be “rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” because by so doing they “take hold of the life that really is life.” They should be generous because it is one of the things that makes them, the givers, spiritually healthy and alive.
In 2001, popular author Stephen King gave the commencement address at Vassar College. Though King is known for writing horror fiction, many readers have noticed explicitly Christian themes in his novels, and he has acknowledged that in a number of interviews. In the Vassar speech, he made some statements that mirror something Paul says in this letter to Timothy, that “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.”
While walking down the road one day in 1999, King was struck and severely injured by a minivan. In the speech, he referred to both his accident and to the earning potential of the graduates, saying:
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing you’re not going to do, and that’s take it with you. I’m worth I don’t exactly know how many millions of dollars … and [when I was hit by that car] I found out what ‘you can’t take it with you’ means. I found out while I was lying in the ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans …. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in the ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard. … We all know that life is ephemeral, but on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life’s simple backstage truths: We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke. … And how long in between? … Just the blink of an eye.”
King went on to discuss what the graduates could do with their earnings in the time they had in that eye-blink:
“… for a short period … you and your contemporaries will wield enormous power: the power of the economy, the power of the hugest military-industrial complex in the history of the world, the power of the American society you will create in your own image. That’s your time, your moment. Don’t miss it. But, of all the power which will shortly come into your hands … the greatest is undoubtedly the power of compassion, the ability to give. We have enormous resources in this country — resources you yourselves will soon command — but they are only yours on loan. … I came here to talk about charity, and I want you to think about it on a large scale. Should you give away what you have? Of course you should. I want you to consider making your lives one long gift to others, and why not? … All you want to get at the getting place … none of that is real. All that lasts is what you pass on. The rest is smoke and mirrors.”
King then mentioned a specific local charity which helps the hungry, the sick and the homeless. He said he was making a $20,000 contribution and challenged audience members to do the same. And here’s one more thing he said:
“Giving isn’t about the receiver or the gift but the giver. It’s for the giver. One doesn’t open one’s wallet to improve the world, although it’s nice when that happens; one does it to improve one’s self. I give because it’s the only concrete way I have of saying that I’m glad to be alive and that I can earn my daily bread doing what I love. … Giving is a way of taking the focus off the money we make and putting it back where it belongs — on the lives we lead, the families we raise, the communities which nurture us.”
For centuries people in the church have recognized that certain practices are important for our spiritual growth. Practices like prayer, Bible study, confession, worship, community, and service. We sometimes refer to them as “spiritual disciplines.” They are disciplines that help us avoid superficiality in our faith, which author Richard J. Foster, calls “the curse of our age.” Foster adds, “the doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem.” Spiritual practices “call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm.”
Generosity is one such spiritual discipline, which means it’s a practice that helps us move from shallowness to depth in our faith.
So yes, the church talks a lot about money. But it also talks a lot about prayer, studying the Bible, confessing your sins, loving others, being committed to the community, and attending worship—all the things that are good for our souls and help us go deeper in our faith.
You might say one blessing of being part of a community of faith is that it provides us with an opportunity to reimagine church by giving generously, for our own good.
Thanks be to God. Amen.