The Freedom of Knowing God as Father - Luke 12:22-34
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The Freedom of knowing God as Father
General Charles Gordon was one of Britain’s most famous soldiers of the nineteenth century, he was also a Christian. The British government wished to bestow upon him some kind of honour or receive a financial reward for his remarkable services and yet he always refused. Well, after some persuasion he eventually accepted a gold medal inscribed with a record of his thirty three military engagements which became his most prized possession.
The thing is this: after his death it went missing. It was only later, when his diaries were unearthed that it was discovered that, on hearing the news of a severe famine, he had sent the medal to be melted down and used to buy bread for the poor. In his diary he had written: ‘The last thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus Christ today.’
What could make him do such a thing? The answer, in part, is that he took seriously the teaching of Jesus, Luke 12:32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
Have you ever wondered why we find it difficult to talk about money, let alone part with it? Jesus tells us that it is ‘fear’. That this fear is linked to possessions and money is made clear not only by what Jesus is about to say next, but by what he has been saying in the previous few verses beginning in v22 about being overly concerned about clothes and food which follows on from the parable of the rich fool who thought about little else.
The Christian psychologist Karl Menninger once asked a wealthy patient, “What on earth are you going to do with all that money?” The patient replied, “Just worry about it I suppose!” Dr Menninger then asked, “Well, do you get much pleasure out of worrying about it?” “No” responded the patient, “but I get such terror when I think of giving it to somebody else.” He wasn’t joking. There is the fear of letting go of money because it feels we are letting go of something of ourselves and the security which is bound up with it. And given this link in our minds between ourselves and our money then the more money we have the more important and secure we think ourselves to be and the less we will feel of our need of God. And that is a very dangerous position to be in. It was John Wesley who once said that, “If you have any desire to escape the damnation of hell, give all you can; otherwise I can have no more hope for your salvation than that of Judas Iscariot.’ And remember that Judas Iscariot was the church treasurer and loved money enough to betray Jesus for it- 30 pieces of silver to be precise. We are not to think that professing Christians are not put in danger by money-they are. That is why in his teaching Jesus spent more time talking about the perils of money and possession than talking about sex. And we are not to think he simply had in mind those who had loads of it, for, as we shall see in a moment, he is concerned about everyone who would claim to be his follower.
You see, the Lord Jesus doesn’t want us to be afraid as a result of our egos and sense of value are so bound up with our money and possessions that we are riddled with anxiety at the thought that by losing the one (money) we will lose the other (significance). So how are we to be freed from fear and freed to share? Jesus tells us.
First, we are to cherish God as Father and open our hands like children, ‘Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.’ You see if we view God properly then we shall start viewing this world and our possessions properly. If, with most people, God is seen as some demanding tyrant who can’t be trusted, then we will cling to what we have for dear life. But if we start thinking of God as he really is, our heavenly Father, then we can relax our grip on things and extend out are hands to receive what he generously gives and in turn open our hands in generosity to give. I love the way Mike Reeves in his book, ‘The Good God’ puts this truth which lies at the heart of Jesus teaching: ‘Since God is, before all things, a Father, and not primarily Creator or Ruler, all his ways are beautifully fatherly. It is not that God ‘does’ being Father as a day-job only to kick back in the evenings as plain old ‘God’. It is not that he has a nice blob of fatherly icing on the top. He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is. He creates as a Father and rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation.’ (p.5). This is precisely what Jesus is getting at here.
And like all good Fathers, God just loves to give. And what does he give? Well lots of things- family, food, friends but especially His kingdom! When the Bible speaks about the Kingdom of heaven, it means that sphere of God’s rule in which we find rescue and love. This is where we find real security for to be part of his Kingdom means that God will remain your Father in this life, come what may, and take you right through into the next life to be his special possession for all eternity. And furthermore our Father is the King of kings whose possession is not just a country or a nation, but an entire universe- and he says ‘what is mine is yours’. And notice that God doesn’t do this begrudgingly but joyfully ‘for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.’ He doesn’t sell us the kingdom or lend us the kingdom- he gives it- saying, ‘Here it is completely free as my love gift it is yours and you owe me nothing.’
Secondly, we are to live simply and give generously, v33a: ‘Sell your possessions and give to the poor’. Who is he talking to? Well, the same people he was talking to back in verse 22, the disciples. And when you think about it, it seems an odd thing to command them to do- ‘sell their possessions’. What possessions? These folk were on the road most of the time so they hardly had anything to sell. Sure, they still had homes back in Capernaum, and maybe James and John’s Dad managed to employ others to keep the fishing business going and they might have had a share in the profits. But Jesus says, ‘Sell your possessions’. What all of them or just some of them? Jesus doesn’t say, because he was no legalist. To the Rich Young Ruler he said, ‘sell everything.’ Zacchaeus gave half his possessions to the poor. In the Book of Acts Barnabbas sold a field which he owned. You see, the disciples were not all that wealthy, certainly in terms of having disposable cash lying around. In fact, for many in this culture money was not all that accessible- save for buying and selling things, most of the wealth would be bound up in property, family heirlooms and the like. We may think of the parable of the Prodigal Son where assets were liquidised so that he could clear off with cash, or of the woman who anointed Jesus head and feet with very expensive perfume which was in all probability a family heirloom. So possessions had to be sold in order for money to be received in order for it to be given away. But what was sold and how much is to be given away- Jesus doesn’t specify. But here’s the thing: if giving is an expression of our devotion, the question you have to ask is: How much is God worth? How in the situation I find myself at the moment can I best express my love and devotion to him financially? If I am short on cash are there things I have in the home which could be sold or things I could do without in to release money so that I could express my gratitude to God in this way through the grace of giving?
And what is this worshipful money, if I can put it like that, to go to? Jesus tells us to literally ‘give alms’, that is engage in charitable giving-which by definition are to those in need. Yes, the physically needy who require the basic necessities of life, but also the spiritually needy- who need the absolute necessity of eternal life- the kingdom. And while there will be many worthwhile charities which will be giving to the former, only Christians will be giving to the latter. If we don’t give money so that we can have workers who will share the Gospel and provide buildings like the new centre in which the Gospel can be proclaimed and support brothers and sisters around the world doing the same thing- then who will provide it? And today we are being given a God-given opportunity to prayerfully and practically put into action what the Lord Jesus is teaching by giving to God’s work through the Newland Christian Trust.
Thirdly, focus spiritually and invest appropriately: v34, ‘….provide purses for yourselves which do not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ Here’s a question to ponder: Why is it that we like to spend money? Sure, we need to spend some money in order to live; we have to buy food, we have to pay rent, and we have to settle our bills and so on. But that is not the main reason you have hundreds of people waiting for 12 hours in Regent Street at New Year for the doors of the big stores to open. It is not that these folk were so desperately in need for designer shoes they would be destitute without them. No, buying things actually gives us pleasure, it literally releases chemicals in the brain which make us feel good, and what is more it can become addictive.
But there is another pleasure we are to enjoy, investing in the bank of heaven. One of the main purposes of having money on earth is so that it can be used to secure treasure in heaven. I don’t think that you will get that many economists saying that is the purpose of money- but that is what Jesus is saying. You can have treasure on earth, having your eyes and hearts fixed on these things with an occasional glimpse upwards- maybe when the collection plate comes around and we are fumbling around for some loose change. Or we can have our eyes fixed upwards on heaven which means being thoughtful and generous in our use of money here on earth. It is one or the other and the latter is not natural, as any worship of the one true God is not natural. That is why we need to ask for his grace, his enabling our desire to do this and being practical and disciplined in making sure it happens. And so knowing the distractions we all have, let us encourage one another not to put off sorting out our giving, but get on with it this week. Prayerfully deciding how much to give or pledge to complete this wonderful church centre and to give regularly to the Trust so that our present work will not only continue but expand.
I have already mentioned John Wesley; let me tell you a little bit more about him. When he was at Oxford, he had an income of £30 a year. He lived on £28 and gave away £2 which was 15%. Some years later his income had increased four times to £120 per year. He still lived on £28 and gave away £92, almost 77%. An earlier generation of Christians used to talk about the tithe- the giving of 10% of our income. That is a good rule of thumb if you have not thought about giving before. Of course the higher your income the more blessed you are by God to give more than 10%.
So what is the reason for followers of Christ to behave in this way? Verse 34, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
By speaking of our ‘treasure’ Jesus means ‘the object of what is being cherished’. By speaking of our ‘heart’ he is referring to the ‘organ’ which does the cherishing. So Jesus is saying, ‘Where the object is that you cherish, that is where you will find the organ doing the cherishing.’ The heart moves towards whatever it is we value. So if the things which cause us to get excited and moved, and which cause us to reach for our credit cards, and which shape our priorities with what we do with our time and money are fixed here on earth, that is where are heart will be.. and that is where our heart will stay and we will be cut off from God for ever because that is not where he is- he is in heaven. And God wants our hearts. How do I know if he has my heart? Well, at the very least if he has my money.
The writer John Piper helpfully puts it this way: ‘How you handle your possessions shows where your heart is. And where your heart is determines whether you are saved or not. And whether you are saved or not determines whether you will inherit the kingdom — the treasure in heaven that does not grow old. Selling your possessions and giving rather than accumulating more and more things for yourself is the pathway to the kingdom, not the payment for the kingdom. It is the proof that you love the kingdom more than possessions. That you trust the King more than money.’
The story is told of a man who was asked, “Are you a believer in the Christian religion?”
“Oh, certainly!” he replied.
“You are a member of some church, then, I suppose?”
“Member of a church? No, indeed. Why should I be a member of a church? It is quite unnecessary; the dying thief wasn’t a member of a church, and he went to Heaven.”
“But of course you have been baptized; you know the command—”
“Been baptized? Oh, no; that is another needless ceremony! I am as safe as the dying thief was, and he never was baptized.”
“But surely, since you will not join a church or be baptized, you will do something in acknowledgment of your faith. You will give of your means—you will help the cause in some way?”
“No, sir; I do nothing of the kind. The dying thief—”
“Let me remark, my friend, before you go any further, that you seem to be on pretty intimate terms with the dying thief. You seem to derive a great deal of consolation from his career. But, mind you, there is one important difference between you and him. He was a dying thief—and you are a living one.”
Let’s hear the words of Jesus again, so we may be free to love and free to give, ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
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