How do our non-Christian friends describe us? Do they call us hypocrites? What ought we to be known for?
I want us to learn something that is a high priority for God, the needy.
We will discuss fear, what they don’t teach in accounting school, what many televangelists won’t teach, yard-sale religion, hard Christianity, and liturgy versus giving to the needy.
A culture of fear blocks out people’s ability to think and helps politicians get their way. But Jesus has not called us to a fear religion. He has called us to be people of faith. That’s why Jesus said to his disciples, Fear not little flock, literally meaning don’t be terrified. The phrase “little flock” specifically refers to the small group of disciples. Later that flock grew to 3,000 and millions more as the good news has now spread around the world. But, the temptation to feel terrorized is still with us. One of our biggest fears is still economic. We are tempted to hoard. But Jesus encourages us that hoarding is the opposite of faith. He wants us to sell some things that we don’t need for survival and give the money to the poor (Luke 12:32-40).
What they don’t teach in accounting school
Accountants are paid pessimists, counterbalancing the optimism of entrepreneurs and evangelists. But there is one thing they don’t teach in accounting school, liquidating assets to give money to the poor (Luke 12:32-40). Nationally, bailouts of big business, space and military budgets pass while money for the poor always meets strong resistance. In business, we would rather spend money on R&D and M&A than help the poor. Individually, we would rather buy another boat or vacation home than help the poor. In a timeless principle, God condemns a nation that engages in religious worship but neglects the poor (Isaiah 1:10-20). God gave ancient Israel a national budget, the third year tithe specifically to help the poor, plus individual responsibility. Helping the needy is true religion and so important to God that he mentioned it throughout the Bible.
What some televangelists won’t teach
A false gospel of health and wealth is a popular message among televangelists, but it is materialistic and not spiritual. Such preachers cherry pick only positive scriptures and ignore the balance of those warning against materialism and demanding self-sacrifice. Just as in ancient times people hire false prophets to preach smooth things. We can’t handle the truth. Today’s false prophets live in million dollar mansions and fly private jets. They ignore Jesus’ teachings of denying ourselves and taking up our cross, and ignore the question of what profit is it if a man gains the whole world but loses his own soul? They ignore Jesus’ warnings to the wealthy and encouragement to a rich young man to sell his possessions. They ignore his encouragement for all of us to sell unnecessary possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:32-40).
Yard sale religion
Who would have ever thought of a yard sale as religious. Some of us enjoy yard sales, especially if it means getting rid of some stuff that we don’t need, accumulated junk that clutters up our lives. We may also look forward to a meal in a nice restaurant or perhaps even a new purchase with the money we made. Instead of spending the money we make on our next yard sale, perhaps there is a suggestion for us in the teachings of Jesus (Luke 12:32-40). Would we want to give the money to charity? As a pastor I spend a lot of time and effort preparing sermons and worship services. But all of that religious activity is worthless (Isaiah 1:10-20) if I am not involved in true religion (James 1:27) giving to the needy among us.
Kingdom Come & Kingdom Here
In the act of caring for the sick or feeding the hungry, we are doing so to Jesus. The Bible describes God’s kingdom as coming yet also here. It means the rule of God, and that means that as we submit to that rule it is also here now. In Luke 12:32-40 Jesus reminded us that God has been pleased to give us the kingdom, not that he will be pleased to give us the kingdom. It is a gift that has already been given. All we need do is accept it by submitting to that rule. And what is God’s kingdom doing? Among other things, it is detaching itself from materialism and giving to the poor. Where our treasure is, is a litmus test of where our hearts are, in the kingdom of this world or of God.
A Free Gift
While many Christians are stingy and selfish, some seem to be the exact opposite. Some believe that their good works can get them into heaven and are driven by guilt rather than love for neighbor. What are our motives? The challenge is to do good works, not out of necessity, but out of love. At the beginning of his challenge to give to the poor in Luke 12:32-40 Jesus reminded us that our Father in heaven has been pleased to give us the kingdom. We do not earn it. It is a gift. However, once having been given that gift, we are faced with a decision. What do we invest in heaven and what do we invest on earth? Are we living heavenly lives now? We don’t give to qualify for eternity with God. That is a free gift.
Be ready & invest well
Some of us have wisely prepared for the future with a savings buffer for bad times and retirement. Many of us are probably not prepared. There is another kind of preparation that Jesus encourages us to do. In Luke 12:32-40 he says to invest in eternity by giving to the poor. In so doing we provide purses for ourselves that will not wear out and a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted or fail. Even the best retirement plans can be wiped out in a moment by war, recession or disaster. Treasures that we accumulate are always in danger of theft. The world’s greatest treasures eventually decay and rot. Only one treasure is permanent and incorruptible: treasure in heaven. When we give to the poor, we reap eternal dividends. Let’s prepare for Christ’s return by investing now.
In Luke 12:32-40 Jesus says to be ready for his return. Much speculation as to what that readiness concerns seems taken out of context. Some have said be ready in prayer. Others have said to be ready in spreading the Gospel. Still others have said to be ready in obedience to this or that tradition or command of men. Yet none of those things explains the context of Jesus’ instructions, where he focused on giving to the poor. There are many versions of easy Christianity. Being involved in a church, keeping religious feasts, traditions, and being a good neighbor, praying and waiting on miracles do not necessarily have to involve much sacrifice. However, could it just be that some small part of being ready for Christ’s return involves hard Christianity such as selling possessions and giving to the poor?
Liberal pinko agenda
To some Christians, words like social gospel and social justice carry images of liberal Christians who don’t believe in a living Jesus Christ and the Gospel that he preached. It seems that the good news has been substituted for just another do-good charity which takes care of physical needs and neglects spiritual needs. As in all things human, there is partial truth on both sides of the argument. What is really important is not our modern terms or perceptions, but what Jesus actually taught. When it comes to some issues which are demanded of Christians, Jesus is quite clear. In fact his request is couched in typical hyperbolic Jesus-terms. He simply said, sell your possessions and give to the poor. If that’s a liberal pinko agenda, then I don’t know too many on the left or right who are willing.
Describe a Christian
If you were to ask someone on the street to describe a Christian what would they say? Many people I know would describe Christians as picky critics, judgmental and narrow minded. And I believe they are unfortunately often right. But that is merely a description of weak human beings and is not the Christianity taught by its founder Jesus Christ. How many would describe Christians as those who are glad to give to the poor? Unfortunately a brand of so-called Christian politics has developed where we find excuses not to give to the poor. How strange is that? Rather than rushing to find ways to help the poor and needy, somehow we believe that Jesus’ command to give to the poor is excluded from Christian politics? What kind of description of Christians is that? Do I hear the word selfish?
As I watched the elaborate ceremony, people dressed in fine regalia, precision movements and people kneeling in practiced unison, I could only think how far distant it was from the way that Jesus did things. It is not a sin to be dressed well, nor is it evil to have order and majesty in a church service. There are examples of that in both Old Testament practice and the brief descriptions of heaven that we read in the Bible. However, none of those things is central to Christianity. Without a care for the poor and weak among us, is our religion impure and hollow? Without a willingness to sell our possessions so that someone else may eat, is our religion just a cheap fake and not the Christianity of Christ? Liturgical pomp is no substitute for care of the poor.
Give to the poor
People sometimes portray the poor as lazy and a drain on the public purse. Is that really the whole truth? Are there not also dozens of other reasons why people become poor? Recently I have spoken to people who have lost their homes due to medical bills and heard of doctors who refuse to treat the elderly because there is not enough money in it. When local jobs are sent overseas to countries without a minimum wage, many hard-working folks are forced into low incomes and poverty. Jesus said something remarkable defending the poor. He challenged believers to sell their possessions and give to the poor. This was not an appeal for donations to the church, but for the poor. When we neglect the poor or falsely accuse them, are we not also ignoring a fundamental of Christ’s teachings?
Let us put self-sacrifice ahead of self-centeredness. We may be called hypocrites, but so are all human beings. At least we are saved hypocrites. Let's be known as the people who love the poor.