A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
It was the clearest message the Lord has given me in a long time. I was in bed and half asleep when it came to me. Fearful of forgetting it, I got up and made a bunch of random notes and then went back to bed. When they still made sense the next morning I decided it must have really been Him. Here’s the message I received.
Man-made religion tells us:
For our salvation, it’s faith plus works. For our health, it’s faith plus modern medicine. For our life, it’s faith plus self-reliance.
The majority of religious people believe that faith is only part of the equation that leads to success. They think it’s a good beginning, but it has to be supplemented by human effort to produce the result we want. To them, it explains why some people of faith appear to be better off than others.
But God’s Word tells us:
You can’t serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). A double-minded man shouldn’t expect anything from the Lord (James 1:7-8). Don’t store up treasure on Earth (Matt. 6:19). Sell everything you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven (Mark 10:21).
According to the Bible, faith is not just one part of the equation, it’s the whole thing. We’re either walking by faith or we’re not. There’s no middle ground, no balanced approach, no hedging our bets.
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be for anyone who stores things up for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
This is called the Parable of the Rich Fool for a reason. He was preparing for a future that would never come and in the process had missed a bunch of opportunities to express his gratitude to God for the blessings he had received by using his excess to bless others (he wasn’t being rich toward God). Who among us can guarantee that the future we’re preparing for will come to pass for us? In the meantime how many opportunities to express our gratitude to God through our generosity to others are we missing? There are people in every community who don’t have enough to eat today. How can we justify storing up for ourselves against the possibility of hard times in the future when there are urgent needs all around us today? The Lord told us not to worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will worry about itself. Instead, we should seek His Kingdom and His righteousness and let Him meet our needs day by day (Matt. 6:31-34).
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:6-8)
The Lord hasn’t called us to store up goods for ourselves in case we’ll need them in the future, but He has called us to share what we have now, promising to give us more as we do. And before you say, “What about Joseph in Egypt?” read Genesis 41 again.
Upon learning of the coming famine, Joseph didn’t tell the Egyptians to begin storing up their excess. Instead, he imposed a 20% levy on the harvest and collected all the extra grain in Egypt during seven years of plenty. When the famine came he sold it back to the very people he had taken it from. When he had all their money, he took their animals, and when he had all their animals he took their land, and finally he took them. By the end of the famine, the people of Egypt were destitute slaves who literally belonged to Pharaoh (Genesis 47:13-21). Joseph had made him the richest man in the world.
The only free people left in Egypt were Pharaoh, the priests he supported, and the 70 members of Jacob’s family, who had never contributed anything to Egypt but were given its most fertile land. Until a few years ago it was most likely the biggest government-orchestrated transfer of wealth in history. I’m convinced the main purpose of the famine was to move Jacob’s family to Egypt and restore Joseph to them. It certainly wasn’t meant to improve the lot of the Egyptian people.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)
But even if you don’t consider the outcome, the famine in Egypt is not a model for our times. Unlike Joseph, we’re not being told to store up treasure on Earth to prepare for a temporary time of hardship here. We’re being told to store up treasure in Heaven to prepare for a permanent relocation there.
Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. (Matt. 10:9-10)
This was the Lord’s instruction to the 12 disciples as He sent them out to preach the good news. When you’re working for Him, He takes care of the expenses. Even when He was alerting them to the difficult times ahead, as in Luke 21:12-19, He never advised them to create a secret stash in the mountains, but to stand firm in their faith that He would keep His promise to them. And His warning to people in Israel when the Great Tribulation begins is to not take anything with them when they flee (Matt. 24:15-18).
Paul complimented the Macedonian churches when out of their own severe trials came overflowing joy at the opportunity to help others, and who in their extreme poverty demonstrated rich generosity. Paul called this a manifestation of God’s grace (2 Cor. 8:1-2). They had every reason to save up what little extra they had against an uncertain future but instead delighted in the opportunity to help others even worse off than they were.
Some who advocate storing things up for the future claim it’s a demonstration of good stewardship. But the Bible’s definition of stewardship is to think of ourselves as a distribution channel for the Lord’s blessings. Give and it will be given to you, Jesus said, for with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38). Our job is to begin the process by giving out of our excess. The Lord, who loves a generous giver, will send us more so we’ll have more to give.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. (2 Cor. 9:6)
A farmer knows the size of his harvest will ultimately be determined by the manner in which he sows the seed. Knowing this, would he sow as little as possible and hide the rest for fear that he wouldn’t have enough in the future? Sowing generously brings a bountiful harvest assuring there will plenty for consumption now as well as sufficient seed for future sowing.
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:10-11)
It’s the same with God. Generously sowing the blessings God has given us will assure a bountiful harvest. We’ll have more than enough for ourselves leaving plenty to share with others. And the more generously we sow, the more generously we’ll reap.
No where is this advice conditioned upon making sure we first have our own future needs met. Instead we’re told that generously sharing what we have now is the one thing that can guarantee our future needs will be met.
You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. (Deut. 8:17-18)
Like the Israelites, you could say, “It’s my money and I can do whatever I want with it.” Once again, the Bible disagrees. There are plenty of people just as smart and just as talented as you are. They also work as hard as you work, but what they have doesn’t come close to what you have. The difference is you were blessed by God. It may have come in the form of an opportunity you happened upon, or the family you were born into, or even the country in which you live. But whatever it was, there is no exclusive connection between your capability and your reward. You are not the proverbial self-made man. The fact is you’ve been blessed and your generosity is a demonstration of the extent to which you understand this and are grateful for it.
After a previous message like this, someone asked, What are we supposed to do? Give away everything and just live hand to mouth? Based on Mark 10:21 the answer would be yes, but remember, it’s from God’s hand to our mouth and we can depend on Him.
This doesn’t have to begin as a big deal and you don’t have to work through your church if you don’t want to, although some churches have great programs for helping others. If yours doesn’t have such a program you could help start one, or you can go through a local Food Bank, Homeless Shelter, Rescue Mission, or equivalent. You could start by just reducing your stock of “emergency” supplies and making a contribution to one of these organizations. Or you could hold a garage sale and get rid of a bunch of stuff you don’t use any more and hand them a check.
While you’re there, ask some questions to find out what they do and how great the need is. Check out all the local programs and pitch in where you see the Lord working. I promise you it will soon become the most personally rewarding thing you do, and you’ll thank the Lord for blessing you so richly.