We’re discovering what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus. Today we find out, in part, what a disciple’s possessions look like, or rather, how they’re used by a disciple. You serve your possessions and use God, or you serve God and use your possessions. There’s not a lot of in between!
There’s a priority system in life. When my alarm goes off, I start with firsts. I shut the alarm off, get my feet on the floor, walk over to my dresser and pick up some clothes, head to the bathroom, go back and get my phone and my tablet and walk down the stairs. Then I go right to the coffee maker and get breakfast food. I sit down with both when they’re done and read my Bible and pray and sip and eat while I’m reading and praying. And the day goes on from there.
But what if I woke up and smelled smoke and the smoke alarms were going off? Would I head to the shower? No, I would jump up, check out what was going on, call 911, wake Robin if she wasn’t already, get the kids and get out of the house before the fire department came. A whole new priority system, a higher one, takes over.
There are firsts; first things first we say. We find our actual firsts when there’s a fork in the road, a decision point.
Now what if I heard the alarms, smelled the smoke, and said “I’ve got to get out of here” and headed for the door and the car? Robin and the girls are on their own! What? That wouldn’t happen because firsts are from the heart and my family is first, humanly speaking, in my heart.
So what is a disciple? Someone who is following a master teacher to learn His ways. Every believer mentioned in the New Testament is called a disciple. As Penn taught last week, being a Christian is a matter of faith in the finished work of Jesus, not your own good behavior. But a believer never stops there. Believers always become disciples, living a new way, Christ’s ways.
So what does a disciple’s finances look like?
Why would I start there? Because how you deal with your financial life is a direct result of what you truly believe.
Whenever you go to spend money on something, it’s a decision point.
Bills or vacation? New car or tuition for school?
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
You can learn two things from this passage of Scripture.
One, money is more spiritual than physical. It has one foot in the spiritual world and another in the physical world, but the reality is that the spiritual is the more important of the two. How you spend/manage your financial life is directly related to your spiritual life, not your physical life.
I can tell if you love God and believe in the reality of His Kingdom by how you spend at decision points.
It’s never how much/little you have that prevents you from choosing God. It’s a matter of Who or what you trust in.
Disciples understand that you serve God and use whatever you have to do it. In other places, disciples are using their pigs or chickens or fish they caught to serve God.
Others serve their finances and attempt to use God to do that. You might have to wrestle those finances to the ground, work at it for a long time and rearrange your priorities, but you can get there.
The second thing you can learn from this passage is that you will invest where you believe the most important returns are. To invest largely in the earthly yields an earthly reward. To invest largely in the spiritual using the physical to do it, yields a spiritual reward. Your treasure and your heart live in the same house, are found in the same place. A disciple treasures the heavenly and his or her heart is there with their treasures, above other pursuits.
How do you do this?
You start with firsts.
The “first” of everything belongs to God. We give God the first of our time. We give Him the first of our finances called tithing, giving God the first tenth of our income. It’s saying to God that you’re going to give to Him first and trust Him to redeem the rest. The first portion of anything is the redemptive portion.
Guess why we worship God, coming to church on Sunday? Because it’s the first portion of our time for the week; it’s one way we give God our time. Some weeks you’re too tired to go to church, or to be at church in time to worship and hear the Word. You are making an investment decision at that point. You may be saying my first portion belongs to me, or my job. Maybe you consider Monday the first day of your week. Gotta get to work on time, make those calls, do that work, so I get paid. It’s good to be faithful at work, and poor to be giving your first fruits to anyone other than God.
Here’s Exodus 23:19
The first of the firstfruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
So not even the tenth portion when you get all ten. It’s the first one that belongs to God, before you have the rest.
In the agrarian days of the Bible, you would give to God the first lamb without blemish, before you had the other nine, and trusted God to redeem the rest. It always takes faith to give the firstfruits to God. We give God our first by tithing, before we pay the government and our bills. We conform our finances to heavenly patterns; notice where our firstfruits go. As much as we believe in what is being done by myriads of ministries and missionaries, God says to bring it into the local church you attend, not just wherever you want to bring it.
Here’s another one.
Honor the LORD with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
Disciples give God the firstfruits. What about Christians in the wealthiest country in the world, American Christians? Pollster George Barna found that, “Among born again Christians, which includes both evangelicals and non-evangelicals, 12% tithed in 2012, which is on par with the average for the past decade.”
What does that mean? The vast majority of Christians don’t arrange their finances or their time or anything else they have, according to a disciple’s priorities and they’re struggling because of it. If you ask someone who gives God the firstfruits, what will they tell you? Man, I’m so blessed, God has just provided all our needs and then some. What will someone tell you who doesn’t give God the firstfruits? I just can’t afford to tithe, I don’t have enough. In general, the Body of Christ is struggling; is this why? Is this why we haven’t spread the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, why there’s poverty and starvation, disease and unaddressed difficulties? If the church just tithed, instead of giving under 2%, we could change the planet for God.
Giving God the firstfruits of everything, yields steady blessings in everything. That’s my motive for talking about the disciple’s finances. I want you to have treasure in Heaven and blessing and favor on Earth. We as disciples want to see the world’s need for Jesus, and for the basics of life, addressed.
Giving the firstfruits to God is only the beginning. Getting out of debt, living a simpler lifestyle, a happier lifestyle, being able to give to others, is full of blessing in itself. Wealthy people are most often miserable people, unless they’ve learned what it means to be a disciple and arrange their finances and the rest of their lives so as to give God the firstfruits. Then they see His blessings.
The blessing of the LORD makes one rich,
And He adds no sorrow with it.