Tonight I am very happy because my friend comes here with me – my wife Ann. We are celebrating our 36th Anniversary. Ann has been the best partner in the ministry; we went to Bible College together, and we serve the church together.
I was asked the secret of a happy marriage for you. I see many things we do is about decision making; the Bible says men go out to work, and women to assist, but it does not say which one makes the decisions. My wife said,
“Okay, it is simple: you are the head of the home, so you make all the major decisions, I will make all the minor decision…”
I was very happy in mind, and she continued,
“…and I will decide what is major and what is minor…”
I don’t see any problems so far, but she continued,
“So you make all the major decisions like Middle East crisis and global warming, and I take care of the minor decisions such as family budget, family vacation and everything else!”
I am very grateful to the LORD of the partnership I have, and I want to say that she is assisting me especially in generosity – because I’ve seen her giving so much money away! It is wonderful if we are to give each other, but we are learning to give bless to others.
Tonight I want to talk to you about money for one reason: it is the most important spiritual topic in the whole of the Bible. There is more teaching in the Bible about money and well possession then all the other things. It is because money will determine whether we have idolatry in our life or not. That's why what I want to share with you tonight is one of the most important subjects. Even Jesus says no man can serve two masters. You have to choose tonight.
In Eccleciastes Ch. 5, the first few verses speaks about worship. There are THREE things about worship: (1) Our approach to worship is important to God. Ecc. 5:1, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.” (2) Our attitude to worship is important to God. Ecc. 5:2, “Do not be hasty in word… to God.” (3) Our action to worship is important to God. Ecc. 5:4, “When you vow a vow to God… Pay what you vow.”
So in other words, the discussion of money is in the context of the discussion of worship, and I think this is a very important connection – because money can easily be idolatry. And it is real that few men can serve two masters.
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In 1347, there was black plague spreading across Europe. This black plague was killing about 30-60% percent of population of Europe. When it was approaching Germany, wealthy citizens were terrified. They knew that money would not save them, but they needed a safe place to run to. So they decided to run to the monastery with their servants and wealth, since monasteries were far from civilization. When they knocked on the door, the monks did not let them in because they were afraid of contamination. So the wealthy people commanded their servants to throw their jewels and wealth over the wall; being worried to be killed, the monks threw the valuables back out. After a few hours, the monks were tired, and the jewels and wealth accumulated to a pile of ~1m high.
Why would they throw the wealth back and forth? For the wealthy people they were hoping the wealth will bring salvation; but for the terrified monks, they feared that the wealth will bring damnation. How come the two sides have two different views? Today we will discuss about THREE views of money – the poverty theology, the prosperity theology and provision theology.
A. The Poverty Theology
The poverty theology is exactly what the monks had – to be holy, you must be poor. Unfortunately this misunderstanding is in the minds of the church as well. The church board or members would pray to God, “Please keep our pastor humble while we keep him poor”, because they think being poor means humble and godly. Don’t misunderstand me; there is no crime in being rich. In the Bible, Abraham is amazingly rich. Job was one of the richest men in the ancient world, like the Bill Gates of the ancient world. There is no crime in being rich.
B. The Prosperity Theology
So we now switch to the opposite extreme which is the prosperity theology – God want you to be rich; and if you are rich, you are truly blessed by God. This is not necessarily true. Jesus once told a story of Lazarus and a rich man. Lazarus is a beggar with leprosy, and everyone passes by will think he is being judged by God; but when he dies, Jesus says, he is in Abraham’s bosom, which means that he is in the presence of God. On the other hand, there is a very rich man that everyone thinks that he is blessed by God; but when he dies, Jesus says, he goes to hell. So the idea that “riches are being blessed, poors are being judge” is not necessarily true.
C. The Provision Theology
There is a better perspective – provision theology. It is not the poverty theology that God want us poor, nor the prosperity theology that God want us rich; rather, it is provision theology that God want us to be stewards of money – the response to money is not to squander money or to decline money, but to steward money.
Here is a true-or-false question: does God want us to steward ALL that you own? Someone may say, yes, God want us to steward ALL that we own. But this is a tricky question; it is false – if you OWN something, you are the OWNER but not the STEWARD. God is the OWNER, and we are the STEWARDS. We cannot say “God want us to steward all that WE own”, but “God want us to steward all that HE own, and He entrusted us to STEWARD what He own.”
The secret to stewardship is to realize that we don’t own anything; we are not owners. I was asked by some friends, “How does your church rises up so much money for your church-building fund?” God lead us to 3 building projects in the past, and we collected Sg$67 million, and we did not go to the bank loan and we have completed everything debt-free. So some of them says, “Your church must have many rich people.” I say, “No they are just formerly-rich people. But now they are richer in God.”
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I used to tell a joke that, as a pastor, you should try this to your congregation – on a Sunday, you ask everybody to stand up, take out the wallet of the one standing next to you, and you wave his/her wallet as a waving offering. When you have your neighbor’s wallet in your hand, how much would you give as an offering? Everything!! Why? Because your neighbors will give everything from your wallet too!! It is always easier to give something that is not yours – and this is exactly my point. Our money is not ours; our home is not ours, we are just passing through. So you have to realize this about money. This world is not your home. We do not own it; it is just for your temporal use.
In some parts of the world I go, I rent a car. Last week I was in New York teaching in a school, and the school rent a car for me. When I return the car, I don’t polish it, I don’t vacuum it, and I don’t repaint it – because it is not my car. And when I go to a hotel, I will not hang my family pictures on the wall, I will not change the curtain, I will not bring out my books – because it is a hotel room but not my home.
Once there was a missionary, who served in India for a long time, came home. On the steam boat, there was an official who finished hunting in the field. When they arrived, a band was playing music, and a crowd came to receive him. The missionary was a little bit sad; he said to God, “God, this official just came back from hunting and he has such a reception. I served you for so long, why there is no one receiving me when I come home?” And God say to him, “Son, you are not home YET. When you come to your real home, there will be a grand reception for you.” This world is not your home.
This is important to deal with the discipleship of money that we are the stewards of money, and this world is not our home.
D. Five Reasons Why Money is not the Answer
In the Ecclesiastes, there are FIVE reasons why money is not the answer to life.
1. Money Corrupts (5:8-9)
Ecc. 5:8-9, “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.”
Today it is hard to find a king committed to cultivate. Most of the time the court and the officials are mostly corrupted. Money is power, and power corrupts. You don't really know about one’s character until they have some power in their hands; in the same way, you don't know someone’s character until they have money. Today, we have to choose between the idolatry of money and the faith to go with God.
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Once a business leader invited me for lunch. He shared with me his testimony of how he developed a piece of foreign land in Asia. The government has only one requirement – partner with Sands and build the largest casino in the world, and other fields will make money. But he is a Christian. His father also called him on the phone to tell him not to do it. In his own conviction, he stood his ground; he did not commit to the agreement. He wanted to be true in front of God. For his faith, he lost a potential of making US$1 billion. I have also seen many Christian businessmen who stand for God and lose millions of dollars. They are faithful to go with Jesus, and they all say, “My Jesus is worth much more than these millions.” They have joy because they are not distracted, not deceived and not corrupted by money.
2. Money cannot Satisfy (5:10-11)
The second reason why money is not the answer is that money cannot satisfy. In Ecc. 5:10-11, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?”
In Phil. 4:12, Paul says, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
In my life, I know how to abound. I have been invited to Michelin restaurants. But I have also been to jungles were very few people have gone to. I have been to a place called Golomok in Borneo – even the name sounds exotic. I met with the tribal people that night, and they honored me and served me with their VIP dinner – wild boar with maggots. So I know how to live with the super rich and the very poor. I remember being in the jungles and I prayed to God, “If I spend the rest of my life in the jungle, I am happy and I am satisfied.” Because, in the jungle, I can see the presence of God.
I have been invited to a huge mansion. In the U.S. once I was invited to a huge mansion that has a huge gate, and the car has to drive for 3-5 min, passing through houses and a 60-car garage, and finally we reached the house with 4 bungalows. The host arranged the guests not by rooms but by bungalows, and there was a swimming pool next to them.
In the jungle of Borneo, one night I was reading the Bible with a weak oil-lamp. Suddenly a bird crashed onto my shoulder. As I turned my head, it was not a bird, but the largest jungle cockroach I have ever seen in my life!! I tried to flick it away, but it wouldn’t move; so I have to tear it out, and throw it back into the jungle.
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I have been in the jungle, and I have been in a mansion. Wherever I stay, I am content. The richest people on this planet are those who are content, and the poorest people are those who are discontent, even though they are very rich. My wife has a Bible study group with different groups of ladies. One of the ladies said, “With the economic crisis and downturn, I am now very poor.” She was very sad; she said, “Now I have only Sg$5 million left, and I have only Sg$1 million for each of my three children.” It is so strange that, if we are not content, no matter how rich we are, we still feel poor. But in the jungle, they have NOTHING, but they are happy. It is all because money cannot satisfy.
3. Money is Hoarded to One's Own Hurt (5:12-13)
Ecc. 5:12-13, “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt.”
The rich has food and full stomach, but they are full of stress and cannot sleep. They are hoarding their security, but in turn they hoard to their own hurt. If you remember Mrs. Macros, the wife of an ex-president of Philippians, she was keeping hundreds of thousands of shoes. Why would you hoard so many shoes? You only have two feet!! You can’t use shoes as hats or earrings, why hoard so many?
The key is to simplify our life. When I was a mentor in my church, I teach my students to shop at home – you have already bought so many things that you don’t use, so you can first shop at your home and find what is necessary.
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I don’t have many possessions, but my most precious possessions are my books – I have 7 rooms of books, some are at my home, some are in my office. One day God told me to give a third of my library away. I said to God, “No way, how can I give away my books? All the books are my friends!!” Then later I realize that giving away money is easy for me, and it is much harder for books. Now my wife tells me, “For every book you buy, give two books away.”
4. Money does not Guarantee Security (5:14)
Ecc. 5:14, “and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand.”
For more than once, rich people come and ask me where should they “park” their money because the world is so insecure. Laymen Brothers can collapse, banks can also collapse – there is no security anywhere in the world. Terrorists can destroy financial centers. Where should you put your money? As a pastor, I would tell you to put it in the Kingdom of God as you will never lose it. I speak this not theoretically; I speak this as one who has practiced it.
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In my married life God told me to give away everything that we have, including all the money. But God not only called us once or twice but three times. The first time was the time we entered Bible College >30 years ago. God wanted us to give away for missions; we went to the Bible College without a single cent, and we lived by faith. And He is honest; we cannot out-give God. He is no man’s debtor. He's the one who blesses us; He loves us as his children.
Because we gave everything in terms of money, we have no money for food. So on Monday to Friday we ate at the Bible College. Friday night we went to the cell group for dinner, and we took left-over for Saturday lunch or dinner. On Sunday we went to church and I'll just have Sunday lunch and again we took left-over for Sunday dinner. Then we went back to Bible College again on Monday.
Sometimes I went to churches to preach and they gave me the money; every time they gave me money, we pray over it, and split it in envelopes and put them into the letter box of different bible college students to bless them. We were poor but we felt very rich, because we had money to give away. One day my wife Ann came back and said she had to drop halfway from the bus and walked home because she only had a few coins left, not enough for the bus fare. Then I asked her, “How is it like to walk home? Singapore is so hot.” She said to me, “I was happy because I can sing songs to praise God when I was walking home.” I was so thankful to God that I married a happy wife; if I had a complaining wife, she might have said, “You wanted me to walk by faith, now I really have to walk!!” But there is joy in God; there is security in Him.
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When my church was building the building project, God once again told me to give every cent to the church. So I gave all our savings and everything for the church building fund. Then I remember my children have a bank account, and my children are richer than us – we are working adults, but we only have <Sg$1,000 between us. Our children have Sg$2,000 each in their bank account. We did not give them money; it is their aunties who gave them for the account and education in the future. Since God told us to give everything, I have to call the auntie to see if it is okay to give away their money. This auntie complained, “I knew you cannot keep money, so I gave it to your children. Now you also give away your children’s money!!” So I told my children to look at the bank book; they were very young, and I said, “This is your money, we all give to Jesus as a gift. And they said okay, and hallelujah praise the God.
Then I remembered they have a piggy bank. They were too small to understand how much Sg$2,000 is, but they understood piggy bank. When I asked the younger daughter, “This is the money you have in your piggy bank; shall we give to Jesus?” And the two sisters looked at each other, and finally agreed, “Yeah, we will give to Jesus.” So I look for the plug to open the piggy bank, but there is no plug; that was the type that you have to break the piggy bank to take out the money. So when I was looking for a towel to cover and a hammer to break the piggy bank, my daughter said, “Wait, wait… must Piggy die?” There was an immediate image shown in my mind; this is the perfect opportunity to tell them Genesis Ch.22, the story of Abraham on Mount Moriah, the sacrifice of Isaac. I told the young girls, “Now God has given us a better sacrifice he said his son to die for us. God have given the Heaven’s best to the Earth’s worst.”
That night, Piggy died. But they have learnt the joy of giving. You cannot out-give God.
5. Money cannot be Taken to Eternity (5:15-17)
Ecc. 5:15-17, “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.”
You cannot bring money to heaven when you die, so you have to use your money wisely and stewardly for the Kingdom of God.
A businessman gave a million dollars for missions. In the economic downturn he lost a few million dollars. But he told me, “Pastor, my best investment of money is the 1 million giving to missions; as in English says, it is the best ROI (Return on Investment).” Then I told him, “No, it is not ROI, but ROM, Return on Mission.” When you invest in the Kingdom of God, you are investing into eternity, because you have to realize money cannot be taken into eternity.
Money does not guarantee security to you; money hoards to your own hurt; and money cannot satisfy. But money corrupts. So here I give you FIVE practical things for applications.
1. Don't be calculated with God
I know some questions asked, “Should our offering be calculated by gross or net paid?” I would say, “You Christians, do you want God bless you by gross or net?” When we calculate, we forget His grace.
My church has a staff, Bennie, who was the managing director of Microsoft Singapore; today he is one of the pastors in my church. During the interview, we have not talked about money, because the church cannot give him what he has in Microsoft. When he was resigned from Microsoft, it was on the national newspaper; immediately, a large company went to him and says, “We would like to hire you.” But he said, “No thanks, I have a job now.” “Which company hired you so fast?” He then replied, “I am now working for the church.” But the church has no money. Whatever we give to him in his salary is about 10% of his salary in Microsoft minus the stock holdings in Microsoft. So this man is not giving offering of 10% to God; he is taking 10% for himself, and 90% to God. Every pastor comes to our church are giving sacrificially. I tell them that I don’t expect them to empty their own bank account – that’s what I did in the past – but I expect them to follow Jesus and do what He tells you to do.
2. Don't overextend yourself
Very often greed comes from insecurity, and greed gives you stress inside. Once I went to a house-warming. Every house-warming the couple we say the same thing: the LORD has blessed us with this house. Because I was a pastor and the mentor, I always ask, “Did God really provide, or did you grab?” What means by grabbing from God? It means I cannot afford it; I make a huge loan just to buy this apartment; I work very hard, and I worry about not enough to make a payment. You are so tired, worried and stressed that you are actually panting in house-warming. How many of you can take a deep breath and says, “May God provide”? It is because God did not give to you but you grab.
On the other hand, when I'm on my way to buy a house, I talk to the seller, “I'm sorry, this is the best I can offer you. If you are not selling me this house, I'm very sorry for you and very sorry for myself. I am sorry to waste your time at what I can offer, and I am sorry I cannot have your beautiful house. This is the best I can offer to you.” The buyer did not know what to say because no one would say like that; in fact she brought along her brother-in-law to come to negotiate the price. Finally, we bought the house about Sg$100,00 less than the market price. When we lived in the house, my neighbor came and asked me, “How is it like to be living in the house?” I said, it was very good. “But it is a haunted house! There was a suicide in this house.” I said to her, “Then this is a good house for a pastor – the price is low, and the demons are free!!” We did not grab; God gave. Therefore, don’t be calculated with God, and don’t over-extend yourself.
3. Live below your means
Some people live above their means; they spend more than they earn. And some of us live at your means – you earn that much, and you spend that much. You have to learn to live below your means, so that you can give.
4. Simplify our life
There was a mega church in Korea who invited me to speak and cut ribbons in a church dedication. They sent me two business class tickets to my wife and me. I told them, “No thanks, please give us economy class tickets.”
When I arrived at the church, the mission pastor told me that we are the first and only international pastor which requested an economy class ticket. I said to him, “It is just a short trip from Singapore to Korea, and we are still young. If we are older and you give us business class ticket, I would say ‘thank you LORD!’” So we have to simplify our life.
5. Love people and use things
Do not use people and love things. Jesus says these sobering words, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” There is a need for us to come and lay ways of Jesus. Men's life consists more than just his possession. It is certain that you cannot serve two masters, and money is a true temptation to idolatry. What if you gain the whole world and be rich and wealthy, but you lose your soul? Today’s churches must be weaned from the idolatry of wealth and money. We have to learn true stewardship so that we can be “poor” to this world and be rich in front of God. We have to use the resources God has given to us. Please abide with me in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we recognize how money is a big issue in discipleship today. Please teach us that this world is not our home. Please help us to realize that we are stewards but nor owners. Please teach us the joy of stewarding the resources You have given us, so that we are not in bondage to the idolatry of money. I want to have the joy of living life. For whatever amount you give to us, all to Jesus we surrender, all to Him we freely give. God, you have contentment; we can have a lot of money and yet not be content. When we surrender our heart to You, LORD, we may have little but we have contentment in You.
Thank you dear Father. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.