During the recent elections, one of the issues promoted by especially the Republican party, was the positive state of the American economy.
- Unemployment under 4%
- Inflation's steady, around 2%
- Welfare rolls shrinking
- Incomes increasing at an average of 3%
Of course not everyone agrees that America is doing well financially, there will always be those who are having problems, of course. But a survey shows that 70% of Americans believe that these times are good, and that's a CBS News poll. The U.S. also has become a leader in the production of oil and gas. Mortgage rates, steady. Lots of construction going on.
Economists are saying that this is a boom time and America, not only in comparison to other nations but compared to itself in the last 30 years, has never been richer. Now the pundits who comment on the economy are mostly focused on debating what to do to keep this financial growth going, and speculate as to when it might be over. That's the talk among the economists.
As Christians, however, in America, we share in this wave of prosperity. But our question should not be, "How much richer can we become?" but rather, "Why, why are we rich?" See, unbelievers attribute wealth to a variety of factors; world population, natural resources, supply and demand, weather, stock market trends, education, politics, blind luck. For them, a combination of these are responsible for the wealth or the poverty of a nation. So the study and manipulation of these factors is what consumes them. Christians, on the other hand, understand that wealth from another perspective.
We know what being rich means and how it can affect us. So since we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, experiencing this time of wealth in this country, perhaps it would do us good to review some of the reasons why we are rich, and what this wealth actually means for us as individuals who live in a wealthy nation.
1. Wealth means that God has blessed us
If we are rich, if this nation is wealthy, it is because God has blessed us or permitted us to possess what we have, regardless of how it was acquired. The world looks at the stock market and a superior military or technology, but we know that the Lord makes poor and rich. "He brings low, He also exalts," I Samuel 2:7. He's the one that raises nations. Do we think that only happened in the Old Testament, that He raised up one nation and lowered another nation? Do you think He lost this power to do that once we crossed the New Testament timeline? He has the same power. There's no nation too big, or strong, or rich, that He can't bring low; there's no nation too small or poor that He can't all of a sudden elevate. It's all in His power. There is no wealth without God's intervention or without His permission.
I mean, even evil people are wealthy but not unless God permits it for a time and for His own purpose. If we understand this principle then we can derive the true blessing from wealth, and that is a thankful heart and a spirit of gratitude. To be wealthy without gratitude is to have no purpose or closure to wealth. People who don't recognize God as the source for their wealth usually become greedy or paranoid or both. Greedy because their wealth becomes an end unto itself.
It becomes their God and so they worship it by amassing more and more of it. Paranoid because without God as the source and protector, they're left alone with their wealth and they become afraid of losing it to thieves or bad times; and so they become slaves to their wealth, always watching out for it, always suspicious of others, always checking the numbers, "Oh, am I still rich today or not?" That's what happens when you think you are the one that creates and maintains your wealth without reference to God.
For those who recognize God as the source of wealth, there is freedom from fear, freedom from pride or greed caused by wealth. I mean, we know the most obvious example in the Bible, Job. Job lost all of his wealth, but he understood that as the source of his riches, God had the right to give and to take away, and so his loss did not crush him in bad times. Did he suffer? Yes, but his spirit was not crushed because he understood exactly who gave him the wealth and who took it away. Also, those who recognize God as the source of wealth can experience the joy of thanksgiving both in good times and in difficult times.
One of the reasons we are rich is so that we can know the delight of thanking and praising God for our good fortune, and herein lies the true blessing of wealth. Think about this for a second. God is so kind, He blesses us not only with riches but He further blesses us with the experience of gratitude on account of our riches. We're winners twice over. Not only are we wealthy, we're believers and have the joy of giving thanks to God for our wealth. America has an opportunity to show God its gratitude because of this boom time. If it doesn't, the wealth will have served no greater purpose than to feed our greed, and fear, and pride, which brings me to my next point.
2. Wealth means that we are vulnerable
Great wealth should also serve us as a red flag that we are in a danger zone. What did Solomon pray? Dear Lord, keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny you and say, "Who is the Lord?" Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God. You see, Solomon understood that the down side of wealth was materialism, the dependence upon and exclusive desire for material things. Materialism leads us into all kinds of trouble. For example, it leads us into idolatry, we worship our things.
How do we worship, do we get down on our knees and do we do this? No, of course not. That happened in the past; that's not what we do. We worship our things when our things are our first priority, that's when we're worshiping our things. Whenever the bottom line is how much; how much is this going to cost me? Will I be able to hang on to what is mine if I do this? It leads us to lust, we desire what others have if we don't have it. It brings us to war, we war against ourselves and others in order to get what we want or keep what we have. Although there is a euphoric rush in gaining wealth and materialism, the final result is not always very good because wealth without gratitude leads to despair, because things do not satisfy us no matter how many of these things we have. It just doesn't work. Materialism does not satisfy. Wealth without gratitude; remember, without gratitude.
My sermon is not against wealth. I'm saying wealth without gratitude leads to depression because materialism reorders your priorities and leaves you alone with things instead of with people. The difficulty of wealthy people, they have a hard time finding sincere friends because they're always suspicious that people want to be friends with them because of their wealth. Wealth without gratitude produces disbelief because our focus changes from pursuing spiritual goals and is replaced by the business of getting rich, or getting ahead, or getting things, or hanging on to what we got.
There are people that invest most of their emotional and spiritual energy into just hanging on to what they got. Not a good life. The Bible is filled with examples of nations and individuals who were ruined by wealth. Israel enjoyed prosperity during Solomon's reign like it never did before, but this wealth led it to experiment with foreign gods and worldly customs; and in one generation the nation was divided, and not long after was ruined; one generation. And the rich man in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 allowed his accumulation and enjoyment of wealth to blind him to the needs of other people, and consequently was condemned to an eternity of suffering.
You know some of us may be saying, "Well I don't feel very rich, that guy up there, he may be talking like he's rich, but I don't feel very rich." Some people may remember better times in the past, but I'll tell you America in 2018 is the richest country in the world today. It's the richest country in history. If you don't feel rich it's because you are comparing yourself to the one-half percent of the population who are super-rich, and not the 90% of the world's population who are poorer than we are. In comparison to the rest of the world, to the rest of the nations throughout history, to at least 50% of Americans, the people of Choctaw America are wealthy whether they realize it or not. Just travel about, go to other countries. Get away from where the hotels are, you know? Get off the beaten track, go into the interior of Mexico or the Caribbean Islands. You'll see, if somebody has a thousand-square-foot house, he's rich. Not too many 3,000-square-foot houses for average Africans. Again, it's not sour grapes. I'm talking about wealth without gratitude. Being well-off in a wealthy nation is a good thing, it's a blessing from God, but it is also a dangerous thing because more souls are lost to hell in good times than in bad times. The thing that makes me afraid is that if we don't appreciate the wealth that we have, God'll take it away from us.
Wealth also means that we have responsibilities
Jesus said from everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. As I've said before, unbelievers think that the purpose of wealth is to make themselves comfortable or secure; and perhaps if they feel altruistic, fix some of the problems in the world. The Christian has a different view of wealth and the responsibilities that God's blessings place on his or her shoulders as an individual or as a nation.
For example, wealth permits us to build a strong nation able to defend itself, that's a good thing. Like Solomon, what did he do? He built up his army, why? Because he was a rich nation. What did that do? That enabled him to be at peace with other nations, why? Because they wouldn't mess with him because he had a strong army.
That's not a bad thing, that's a good thing. But this peace and security should free us to pursue our own personal relationship with God without interference from civil unrest or war, as Paul says in I Timothy 2:1-2.
Yes, our faith grows more in bad times but you know, bad times are hard times. Wouldn't it be better if we invested ourselves into spiritual growth during the good times? Wealth also permits us to help those who are in need. Pretty obvious thing. The wealth belongs to God, not to the USA. As a nation we should support efforts to help the poor, simply because it is the right thing to do with our wealth, not because it is politically correct or strategically correct. I believe that what makes America great and keeps her wealthy is the fact that America is generous. And we should never change this or become cynical or manipulative about it. It's a good thing about us as Americans, let's not change that.
Wealth permits us to spread the gospel
Our wealth is not just a sign of God's blessing and a danger sign against materialism, it is also a sign that this nation above others has been given the best opportunity and resources to spread the gospel to all nations. Why? Well, America has the gospel, and America has the people, and America has the wealth to preach the gospel to every nation in the world in this generation, and God have mercy on us if we don't because we have certainly had the chance and the resources to do so.
For Christians, the wealth that we have represents not only success and security, but the responsibility to do something to promote the kingdom of God throughout the world. Imagine, there are countries that are awaiting us to bring them Bibles; and yet if we wanted to we could go online and order 50 Bibles and they'd deliver it to our house like in two days. So there are good reasons why God has blessed America at the beginning of the 21st century.
Some think that it's only to enjoy, and to increase, and to maintain. But if we have the proper view of wealth in general, that it is a blessing from God, then we'll be able to see what its ultimate purpose is meant to be. And the ultimate purpose of our being rich now is to prepare us to be rich later on, after we die. Our treasure here should be used to obtain treasure there. The point I've tried to make this morning is that if we are wise stewards, we will use our wealth here on Earth in such a way that it will make us rich in heaven.
Rich in the sense that we are full of thanksgiving and joy because of our wealth; rich because we have invested our wealth in helping others in building the kingdom of God here on Earth; and rich because you have a crown waiting for you there because you have used your wealth wisely here. Regardless of how rich we are in comparison to other men, the final question will always be, "How rich are you before God?" If you need to make some changes in your life so you can be rich with God, then I encourage you to come forward now as we stand and sing our song of encouragement.