This week we come to the end of our series, Live Big. We have been talking specifically about how to live with the abundance God has planned for us in Christ through the lens of our finances. This week we broaden things out to see how we can take those same principles and experience that abundance in our whole lives. Let’s talk this morning about the onramp to big living.
The Onramp to Big Living
We’ve talked about advertisements several times over the course of this series. Not any ads in particular, but the trend of advertising generally. The reason for this is that observing a culture’s advertisements can actually tell you a lot about what that culture values and believes. Advertisers work really hard and are paid big bucks to find ways to convince you to want whatever some company has hired them to sell. In order to do this, they always have to have their finger on the pulse of the people to whom they are trying to sell. They frame certain products in certain ways because they have a pretty good sense that is going to be what will convince you to want it. Cultural slogans tell us a certain amount, but advertisements tell us more. With this in mind, check out a commercial I saw recently from the company, Boost Mobile.
The first time I saw it a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t really paying much attention because it was an ad, and I didn’t care. But as I was half-listening along, that phrase “money is power” fairly well jumped off the screen, grabbed my ears, and demanded that I pay more attention. It’s a really busy ad—almost too busy for my tastes—but the idea it is trying to convey is pretty simple. The big idea here is that Boost Mobile wants to help you live a life of power. To put that another way that may ring with a bit more familiarity to your ears given the conversation we have been having over the past few weeks, Boost Mobile wants to help you live a life that is abundant. And did you catch the things they think you think will give you access to that life? Money, choice, and privacy. If you have the money to buy what you want, the freedom to make your own choices, and protection from what the world may throw at you, you will have power and power means living a bigger life than you are right now. At least, that’s what our culture believes.
And, those beliefs are pretty easy to understand. While we sometimes like to pretend we don’t really believe money is power, we act like it most of the time. That ad just said the quiet part out loud when it declared, “money is power.” We want to feel like we are the ones in control of our lives. In every situation we are in, we want to know we could have done something different. More than that, we want to know we can do something different should our whims change. And the thought of being protected from the world animates a great many of the decisions we make on a daily basis. This one ad captures the spirit of our age and what we believe leads to a big life better than just about anything else I’ve seen today.
And yet, if you look at the collective fruit of our pursuit of these things in an effort to lay our hands on a big life, the harvest is not very promising. There is a great deal more bitterness here than sweetness; more pain than gain. Or, as we have said again and again over the course of the journey of the last few weeks, the harder we have tried to live big on our own terms, the smaller our lives have become.
This morning, we are in the final part of our series, Live Big. Over the past several weeks—with a couple of breaks to highlight and hear from our incredible men and women and the work they are respectively doing to advance the kingdom of God into this community and beyond—we have been talking about the fact that God desires for us to live an abundant life. Jesus offers us a big life. He created an incredible world for us to enjoy and set us loose to enjoy it to its fullest under His guidance and care. Everything He does is done in part with the goal in mind of seeing us live with the fullness of the kingdom of God.
After establishing this big idea in the first week, we spent the next three weeks focusing our attention on one particular part of our lives where the decisions we make can help or hinder our embrace of this abundance more directly than just about any other area of our lives: our finances. Now, talking about God and our finances could cover all kinds of ground, but we limited ourselves to just three big ideas: giving, saving, and contentment. All three of these were connected by one overarching theme: If we are going to live with the abundance God intends for us to have when it comes to our finances, we must learn to think about them through the lens of God’s own approach to His stuff (a designation which includes all the stuff we might otherwise identify as ours). And God’s approach to His stuff is defined by generosity. He is generous with His stuff and so must we also be. The way we do that now is to develop the practice of sacrificial generosity. The way we do that later is to save with the goal in mind of sowing seeds of future kingdom advancement. Finally, we are able to do both of these things when we embrace a spirit of contentment in our God and what He has provided for us, a spirit we demonstrate by living comfortably within our means.
Well, although we have focused most of our time on our finances because of the outsized role those play in our efforts to live with the abundance of God in Christ, that abundance is meant to cover our entire lives, not merely a part of them. As we prepare to land this whole series of conversations this morning, I want to zoom back out from where we’ve been the last few weeks to see how we can live with God’s abundance in Christ in every part of our lives. We are going to do this by coming back again to Paul’s first letter to Timothy. From where we stopped last time, Paul shifts gears to offer some personal encouragement to Timothy to keep up the fight for the faith. But just as suddenly, in v. 17, he shifts gears back to talking about money. This time, though, rather than being general, he gives Timothy some very specific advice on how to lead people who have a lot of money. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way to 1 Timothy 6:17 and listen to what Paul has to say here.
“Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.”
Now, out of the gate here, Paul says something that may leave many of you heaving a big sigh of relief that none of this actually applies to you. Did you catch what that was? He tells Timothy to instruct those who are rich in the present age. You hear that, think, “Well, I’m not rich,” and conclude this doesn’t apply to you. It’s an easy way out from under whatever Paul happens to say next. It’s also wildly inaccurate. While, sure, you and I may not be rich in comparison with the Jeff Bezoses of the world—of course, nobody is rich if he’s the standard—in the scope of the world at large, you and I are fabulously wealthy. We can actually broaden things out from there. In comparison with the rest of the world across the whole of human history, we are the wealthiest people there have ever been. Your standard of living and quality of life are beyond what even the most powerful ruler of the Middle Ages could have even imagined. Yes, we live in a world in which absolute poverty and hunger afflict a bare fraction of the world’s population that they did even a single generation ago, but even as the baseline has been raised for everyone, we still sit near the top of the pile. You are wealthy in a way most of the rest of the world will never experience. You and I are wealthy in ways no one else in history has experienced. What that means is that, like it or not, this all applies to you and me.
With that in mind, Paul tells Timothy to instruct folks like us. Another translation option there is for Timothy to command us regarding our wealth. Why does Paul think we need instruction here? I mean, most of us have some idea what we would do if we had enough money to feel rich. We don’t need help from Paul, thank you very much. Well, actually…we do. You see, most of us aren’t very good at being rich.
There’s an idea floating around in our culture and in various other parts of the world that God doesn’t want for people to be rich. You will sometimes hear that God doesn’t like rich people or that He wants for people to be poor. While I understand where someone might have gotten this idea while reading the Scriptures, nothing could be further from the truth. God is just fine with people being rich. Some of His most faithful servants in the Scriptures were fantastically wealthy. God’s problem with wealth is not that some people have it; it’s that most people who have it aren’t actually any good at being rich. Thus Paul’s emphasis here.
Well, the reason we’re generally not very good at being rich is that we have this irritating tendency to operate on the basis of what we can see. Now, of course, it makes sense that we would do this. After all, it’s right there in front of us. If we are being given the choice between trusting what is right in front of our eyes and trusting in something we not only can’t see, but have no way of seeing, that’s pretty much a no brainer for us most of the time. When we operate this way, though, that tends to cause us issues in the bigger picture. The reason for this is that we can’t always see what we need to see in order to successfully move forward toward God’s kingdom. His kingdom is not of this world. That necessarily means that on occasion, living our lives with it in mind is going to demand that we act on the basis of things we can’t see. That’s why we see so many calls to faith in the Scriptures.
With our struggles with living only with the things we can see in mind, though, Paul tells Timothy to teach rich people who want to be good at being rich and following Jesus to not be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches instead of the God who provides it for us to enjoy. Both of these warnings may spark a bit of protest in our hearts and minds. “I’m not arrogant,” we think. And perhaps not. But when we start to feel rich, it’s easy to start to get a little more comfortable with that particular feeling. And when we look at other people through the lens of feeling rich, we first pity them for not enjoying all the same advantages we have, but it’s not a far leap from there to growing increasingly impatient with them. If they would have just worked harder or gotten a better degree or hadn’t made those poor choices or you fill in the blank here, then they could be rich like us and avoid all the trouble they are experiencing and which they are causing us. Do you know what they call that line of thinking? Arrogance.
You might also push back a bit against Paul’s words here because you do not set your hope on your wealth. Your hope is in Christ alone. Again, perhaps that’s the case. Good for you. But can we be honest with each other? When we have a lot of stuff, it’s easy to start feeling like we’re going to be okay because we have a lot of stuff. When a crisis of some kind comes, we feel more confident facing it with a bigger bank account than we do with a smaller one. And the bigger our bank account gets, the higher our confidence goes.
And again, maybe neither of these things apply to you, but both of these tendencies are completely natural. It is far easier than we’re usually prepared to believe for us to fall headlong into them without realizing it’s happened. I suspect that if you’ll be really honest with yourself, you have been there before. You probably didn’t realize it in the moment—we seldom do—but at some point—likely when things started to feel like they were spinning out of control on you—it dawned on you that your trust had been misplaced and you weren’t being someone God wanted you to be. That’s just how it goes more often than it doesn’t. We get a little bit of wealth—or at least the feeling of it—and we go all to pieces. This is why we need Paul’s words here. We’re not good at being rich. We have to be instructed in it.
Okay, so, if we’re not very good at it, how can we get better? Paul told us. Look again at what he said to Timothy. He actually gave Timothy four pieces of advice to pass on to rich people who want to get better at it than they currently are. We are to do what is good. In other words, we are to pursue a life of righteousness. As a part of that, though, we have to understand that righteousness does not come from what we have or what we do. That’s that arrogance trap rich people can start to drift toward if we’re not careful. Righteousness—being rightly related to God and to people because righteousness means right relationships—is not a status we earn or somehow gain for ourselves. It is something God gives to us and sustains in us by Christ alone through the Spirit’s indwelling power. If you’re going to be even remotely good at being rich, that’s only going to happen when you are connected to Christ and relying on His help to pursue a life of righteousness.
People who are good at being rich, though, don’t just do good. It’s bigger than that. They are rich in good works. They are finding ways at every possible juncture to leverage their abundant resources to advance the people around them in the direction of God’s kingdom. When God has entrusted a great deal of His stuff into the hands of one person, the reason He’s done that is so they can reflect His approach to His stuff in bigger ways than the average person is able to do. And if you’re sitting there thinking you’d like the chance to do that, start practicing it with what you have now. Start practicing being a good rich person now so that, should the day come when God decides to share an overabundance of His stuff with you, you’ll already be ready to hit the ground running rather than facing a learning curve out of the gate. By the way, that’s why so many folks win the lottery and then their lives fall apart. They get rich before they know how to be good at being rich and it tears them apart.
The way we become rich in good works is spelled out in the next practice Paul offers for training in being good at being rich. We are to be generous and willing to share. There’s a funny thing that happens when we find ourselves responsible for managing more and more of God’s stuff. The more of it we have, the tighter we begin to hold it. We never expect that will happen. Our plan at the outset is to be as open-handed with it as we can possibly be. But the more we accumulate, the more we have to lose. If you are a percentage giver and the total from which you are giving a percentage suddenly goes up by an order of magnitude (I’ve never experienced something like that, but I’ve heard it can happen), the check you write increases by an order of magnitude as well. It’s a lot harder to write a check for $1,000 than a check for $100. It’s even harder to write a check for $10,000. If we want to be good at being rich, though, we have to put ourselves in a place mentally where we are willing to be open-handed with what we have no matter how much of it we have.
And we do this because this life isn’t all there is. That’s the last thing Paul says here. We store up treasures in heaven. People who are good at being rich understand that while they may have a lot of resources within their control right now, this is nothing compared with the overwhelming abundance that will be available to them and all of God’s people when the final kingdom comes. So, they do everything they can to make sure their storehouse there is full before they arrive. In other words, people who are good at being rich have perfected the art of enjoying this life to the fullest while understanding perfectly well that this life is ever only a shadow of the life that is to come. They are living for the life that is truly life. They are living for the abundance God has planned for them in Christ. They are living for that and using every opportunity they can to get better at enjoying it so that when the day arrives, there won’t be a learning curve. They’ll be fully prepared.
All of this counsel Paul gives for getting good at being rich boils down to a simple idea: living generously. You see, while Paul is focused on helping rich people get better at being rich here, the perspective we are aiming for is even bigger than that. If we want to enjoy the abundance God has planned for us in Christ, we don’t need to simply give generously from what He’s given us. We need to learn to live our whole lives with that same generous spirit. We need to live generously. When we do that, abundance will be ours. It will be ours because in living our entire lives after the pattern of God’s approach to His own infinite existence, we’ll be tapped into a source of fullness and power that cannot be exhausted. Living generously is the ticket to this feast of wealth; the kind of wealth that will last forever. Or, to take all of this and put it in a single idea: God’s abundance comes when we live generously.
And yet, as we ask every single time we arrive at a big idea like this, how do we do that? Paul’s counsel is absolutely sound for being good at being rich, but how can we take things to an even bigger place than that so that we can live as generously as we possibly can? Let me give you five more practices that will get you out of the starting blocks and moving on down the road. First, you need to cultivate a heart of gratitude. The fact is that the more grateful you are for something, the more you will be willing to approach it from the standpoint of generosity. That may sound counterintuitive, but it’s not. The more grateful you are for something, the more you will be inclined toward others’ being able to share in the goodness of it with you. A heart of gratitude is never stingy or entitled. It is open-handed and gracious. God’s abundance comes when we live generously, and that won’t happen until we begin to see the world around us through a lens of gratitude.
The second thing we need to do is to operate our lives from an outlook of faith and faithfulness. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, the more fully and deeply we trust in not only our God’s ability, but His willingness to provide for our needs, the freer we will be able to be with the things He’s given. If there is no scarcity, if He can truly provide everything we need, then we don’t have to worry at all about our generosity somehow leaving us with not enough. Faith brings us to such a place. Faithfulness keeps us there. Once we have this trust in Him, we begin to live like we have this trust in Him. One without the other is worthless. God’s abundance comes when we live generously. Our trust brings us to such a place.
The third thing we do is to start putting others first. I was listening to a podcast talking through the book of Genesis and the hosts made a point of observing that throughout the Genesis narrative, one of the major themes is of the second becoming greater than the first. People were created after animals, and yet we were given dominion over them. Abel’s sacrifice and offering were greater than his older brother Cain’s. Jacob became the one whom Esau served. Joseph was nearly the youngest of his brothers and yet they all bowed to him. Jesus was the greatest of all, but became even greater when He put Himself second and us first. If we want to take part in the abundance God has for us in Him, we have to follow suit. A life of generosity is consumed with putting others first. This does not mean we set our needs to the side entirely. We can still work intentionally to see those met with God’s help. It means that when given the chance, we treat the people around us as if they were more important than we are. God’s abundance comes when we live generously, and this means putting others first.
Fourth, we look for opportunities to intentionally leverage the resources God has given us for the sake of someone else. This idea flows directly from the last one. This putting others first cannot be something incidental or accidental in our lives. It must be intentional. It’s not something we do because it’s convenient. It will generally be inconvenient for us. We do it because God does it with us. He did it with us in Christ so that we can have access to the full abundance of His kingdom. God’s abundance comes when we live generously.
One last thing: We remember that this life is not all there is. If this life is not all there is; if there is another life after this one that will last infinitely longer than this one will, then making investments in that life and doing things that will ready us for the moment it comes make perfect sense. When God’s kingdom arrives, abundance will be the law. And while, no, we can’t start life there in full until the time comes, the secret to getting the most out of this life is to live like that one is already here. In other words, we start living now like that abundance is ours to steward. And stewarding God’s abundance means being as generous with the world around us as possible. We are generous with our time, generous with our talents, generous with our treasure, generous with our assumptions, generous with our judgments, generous with our words, generous with our thoughts. We are generous in every way. Because we can be. Because the abundance of God’s kingdom is ours. We have taken hold of the life that is truly life. God’s abundance comes when we live generously.
So, let’s get started. Let’s commit ourselves to living generously with one another here and with every single person God brings within our sphere of influence. Let us live the big life of the kingdom of God so that a people living small can see what real life is really like. God’s abundance comes—not just to us, but to the world around us—when we live generously. Let us be bearers of the kingdom to the glory of the king and the joy of all the people He created. God’s abundance comes when we live generously.