Rich Man, Poor Man

Heritage Presbyterian Church

September 25, 2022
16th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture readings – 1st Timothy 6: 6-19 and Luke 16: 19-31

It may seem like I am preaching a theme, especially if you note that our Stewardship Campaign will kick off next month.  I assure that was not the plan when I planned last week’s sermon and this one…strange coincidence is more like it.

Last week’s message, on the topic of wealth, reminded us that no matter our station in life, we are blessed, lucky, fortunate, and wealthy in many things – especially when compared with billions of other people around the globe.  The bottom line was to remember to use that wealth wisely, intelligently, and with our whole hearts.  In this way, the Lord may be pleased with us.

Today’s message takes on the same topic of money, but I will pose a few questions based on the readings for this week.  What was given last week in the message is certainly relevant, and perhaps this week, that message is enhanced by what we are given.

First of all, what did the Apostle Paul actually caution his young protégé, Timothy, about money?

Paul began by warning that those who strive to become rich risk losing everything to that pursuit.  Even today, the lure of the old “get-rich-quick” scheme is constantly there; just check your email for the most recent offer from that Nigerian prince who keeps offering such a good deal!  But if our hearts are not already set on inordinate wealth, the danger is always there because of how it seems we are programmed.

Note two of the Ten Commandments:

  • Thou shall not steal (the 8th Commandment)
  • Thou shall not covet what is thy neighbor’s (the 10th Commandment)

Even in the days of Moses, the pursuit of wealth was considered by the Lord when the Ten Commandments were given to His people by Moses.

Recall that it was 30 pieces of silver that persuaded Judas Iscariot to betray his own beloved teacher, Jesus.  That amount was equal to five week’s daily wages by the average worker – a literal fortune in those days.

In Paul’s day, in the city of Ephesus, it was falsely taught by believers that godliness would be a means of gain.  In other words, if you were working for the Lord, then you should be paid well for advice, for prayer, for preaching, and ESPECIALLY for any and all miracles that were performed.  

Paul pushed back vehemently against this by insisting that he continue working as a tent-maker everywhere he went.  Did he ever stay in someone’s home and accept the common Middle Eastern hospitality customs of his day?  Of course, he did.  But Paul would not accept a dime for his own work on behalf of the Lord.  He saw spiritual contentment as the fruit of godliness, not the monetary reward.  He did not order Timothy to have a side job; he merely set an example for others to follow.

Experts also believe that an unintended consequence from Paul’s ability to support himself was that he certainly made the Pharisees of his day look bad.  Those Pharisees just loved money, and they expected the people to support their often lavish, important lifestyles with their regular Temple taxes and gifts.  Besides, those same Pharisees expected to be paid handsomely for any and all services they did on behalf of their various congregations – especially in Jerusalem!

A little different from what we do today, but…

  • no one has ever offered to pay me for saying a prayer; 
  • no one has ever paid me for advice I give on any subject; 
  • no one has ever paid me for Communion, Baptism, or the rare occasion that I sing in the choir.  

We work out my terms of call on an annual basis, and I am satisfied with what you give me.  I appreciate it very much.

While I can’t make tents, but I have a few skills that could earn a buck if needed.

One final note: in Paul’s letter, he offered a very strong word to Timothy when dealing with those who were rich in this present world; Paul told Timothy to command them to do good, command them to be generous, and command them to lay up treasures for themselves in Heaven instead of here on earth.

Our next question for today is this?  What are we programmed to do when it comes to money?

This is not a criticism…it is merely an observation.  Think about how you were or were not trained to handle money.  If your family came through the Great Depression, then your use of money is probably shaped by that event.  If your parents were frugal because their own parents were frugal, that makes sense that you will be also.  If you get overextended on credit, chances are you are close someone who has done the same.

If you regularly give to the poor, the church, the local food bank, or even work at local charities giving the wealth of your personal time, then someone probably showed you how to do that sort of thing.  It rarely comes out of nowhere.  Paul set examples of how to live faithfully in multiple places around the Roman Empire.  Whatever he did, his example and especially his words are available for us today to read, ponder, and follow.  

Paul told Timothy that working to helping others become more generous is something worth doing. Human being are virtually programmed to follow strong examples – both good and bad.  Paul’s righteous examples probably had to be introduced for the first time, taught and taught again, and reinforced on a regular basis.

Programming is not always a bad thing; the word might make us uncomfortable, but good habits take time and effort.

Our third question is this one:  What do we truly want?

Not what do we truly need…what do we truly want?

Here is where the concept of “contentment” comes into play.  Some are more content with much less than others.  Some are content in circumstances that might not do it for others.  If my wife is not given the opportunity sit on the beach in New Jersey on a regular basis, she will not be content.  

I like the beach there, it’s more beautiful than most Texans realize, but I don’t need it in order to be content.  For me, contentment comes from being around people, especially at a big meal.  I think that’s why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year.  (And before you that I just sit there and let others do all the work, I am in charge of clean-up…not a small job in my household.)  If friends and family are sitting around the table, I am content.  We can be standing on the back porch sharing a great pizza too – I only need turkey on Thanksgiving in order to be content.  But I love all the other stuff that comes with it.  And everyone knows that I love meeting at Whataburger for any type of church committee meeting.

If I took some time today and asked what each of us needs in order to be truly content, I think our answers might be as different as the planets in our solar system.  Because when we focus on what our true needs, if we focus on what makes us content, if we focus on what serves others, money is not automatically included in those points.

Finally, let’s observe an unusual point from the work and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ; did you ever notice that Jesus seems more concerned with what we do with our money than whether or not we have any?  In fact, if you check carefully, the topic that Jesus mentioned the most in his sermons and parables is “The Kingdom of God.”  

Wanna take a wild guess what He mentioned the second most?  That’s right: money.

It’s important to recall what Jesus told us in last week’s reading: 

  • “No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate one and love the other or you will be devoted to one and despise the other.”
  • “You cannot serve both God and Money.”
  • “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”

In these quotes, Jesus was talking bluntly about money to a crowd of Pharisees who sneered at his words and disregarded his message as naïve and misguided; they may have also seen his wisdom and worried for their very survival!  

Jesus addressed his points not to a crowd that might have been there, or to his always-present Apostles; instead, his focus was on the Pharisees who loved money and allowed it to become the focus on their lives and work.  

In his parable about Lazarus the beggar and the rich man, the focus of the parable is on the chasm between them; this is not a chasm between a rich man and a poor man…it is one that stretches between God’s infinite grace and the human construction of cheap grace. 

It is God’s grace that gives us all the opportunity to dream of being in Heaven with the Lord.

It is God’s grace that allows others who might never hear of Jesus and his love to experience it through knowing some of us.

It is God’s grace that takes away sins we cannot forgive ourselves for, sins that stain our souls but not our eternal home, sins that have already been bought and paid for by the Lord himself.

Rich man, poor man…rich woman, poor woman…

All of us can be rich in the treasures we lay up in Heaven!