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Wealth is a Vapour

November 20th, 2008

Solomon has been portraying the emptiness of life under the sun – even ‘religious’ life (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). He now turns to deal with wealth and its limitations, kicking off with a statement like the old cliché that money can’t buy you happiness… (Ecclesiastes 5:10).

Maybe here is some solace – certainly some timely wisdom – for us as we wander into recession.

The Shortcomings of Wealth
A psychologist called Michael Argyle in his influential book The Psychology of Happiness statistically shows that people who most value money are less satisfied and are in poorer mental health.

Solomon knew this from his own modest research (and God’s wisdom…) the fact is wealth cannot make you content – it was not created to! It was created as a means of worshipping the only one who makes us content.

Three other problems add salt to the wound. Firstly, the more cash you make the more accountants, consultants, brokers, managers and friends there are who will want a piece of you. You may spend decades making a fortune you never touch. You merely watch it going out the back door (Ecclesiastes 5:11).

Secondly, the wealthy lifestyle is rarely healthy. Stress, overwork and big dinners will mean that your designer clothes become what Douglas Wilson calls ‘wrapping paper for ulcers’ (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

Thirdly, wealth is fleeting (Ecclesiastes 5:13-16). It just is. Surely the last 2 months of global finance confirm this. Whatever success we have, we are fools to imagine our fortunes secure.

The Gift of God
Maybe after all this we’re tempted to think the answer is poverty. Whether through deliberate downsizing or by sheer misfortune we might hope to become happier by possessing nothing. Not so. It’s far more likely that those who lose everything pass their remaining days in bitterness (Ecclesiastes 5:17).

So neither poverty nor riches will do for the person who is truly searching (Proverbs 30:8-9). Solomon points to another hope.

In the end there is one way out of the distress: the gift of God. Amidst the apparent emptiness and vanity of life God provides a way that is ‘good and fitting’ (Ecclesiastes 5:18). And it has nothing to do with wealth, but everything to do with contentment.

The truest contentment comes from knowing the God who rules over the apparent chaos (financial, social, political, emotional or whatever) and makes everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He is able to give us our ‘lot’ (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19) – our portion – or, as Jesus friend Peter has it ‘everything we need for life and godliness’ (2 Peter 1:3).
The Gift of Enjoyment
The need for God-given contentment is seen starkly in the case of those who have everything they apparently need – but no ability to enjoy it (Ecclesiastes 6:1-2). Even those who sail through recession, untouched by the murky financial climate, are not guaranteed true happiness.

What’s needed is the contentment of knowing the true and beautiful God. With him firmly in the equation we see money in the right perspective. It’s not bad – it’s a useful tool. The greater goal of all creation – including your bank account – is God’s glory. So use it for that.

We continually pursue that which doesn’t satisfy because our appetite wanders away from the one right in front of us who became impoverished, with nowhere to lay his head, naked and less than nothing, suffering in darkness the death of a criminal. He became poor, that through his poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

He will meet our needs and enable us to enjoy the world he made. He will see that, eternally, we don’t go hungry and thirsty (John 6:36). He really will – he died to ensure it. We can, and should, trust him; and live generously, giving thanks for every good gift, holding each one lightly and remembering how we got them: because of his kindness.

You can watch or listen to this sermon here

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2 Corinthians 5:21

November 11th, 2008

This is arguably one of the most important verses in the Bible. One commentator puts it like this ‘There is no sentence more profound in scripture; for this verse embraces the whole ground of the sinners reconciliation to God.’ Certainly all the other great truths already stated in this chapter are dependent on the truth given to us in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

 

It tells us what God did … he sent his Son. The biggest question in the Universe must be, why does evil exist? The Bible doesn’t actually give us an answer to that, but it tells us that evil does exist; we see it in the terrible things that happen in the world but we know there is evil also in our own lives. God took an initiative against evil in sending his Son. This means that God was fully involved at the Cross. He made Jesus sin for our sake. See also Isaiah 53:4 and Acts 2:23.

It tells us who Jesus is… he is sinless. One of the most astonishing things about this claim is that Jesus was himself aware that he was sinless. See John 8:46. It is also the consistent testimony of the New Testament. See Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5. (3 different writers here). To state that Jesus is without sin is not to be understood just in a negative way; he was utterly righteous. We sin and fail to do the will of God. Who can help us? Only someone who is utterly righteous and without sin. That is the person that God sent. That person is Jesus.

It tells us what Jesus did… he was made sin. This happened at the Cross. This does not mean that Jesus became a sinner. John Stott says the meaning of this is that Jesus bore the legal consequences of our sin. This is beyond illustration for there has never been an event like the Cross of Christ, nor will there ever be. Jesus was punished for our sin and in our place.
Also Jesus dealt with all our sins. Time may be a great healer, but it is not a great forgiver. Only God can forgive us our sins. God sees all our sins past present and future equally clearly because God stands outside our limitations of time. They all stand as a record of charges against us; none of them are expunged because of time. But they are expunged by the death of Christ at Calvary. See Colossians 2:13-14. The something extraordinary happens; God remembers our sins no more. See Hebrews 8:13. This does not mean that God forgets our sins (we do and that is part of our problem) but God chooses no longer to bring them to mind.

It tells us who we are… the righteousness of God. In context this verse is not telling us that we are righteous; because we aren’t! It is telling us that we are covered with Christ’s righteousness and that is how God sees us; dressed in Christ. Christ took our sin; we are covered with his righteousness – an amazing transfer has taken place.

It tells us where we are… in him. To speak of a person being ‘in’ something identifies that person and tells you a lot about them. To be ‘in Christ’ identifies us with all the privileges of being a Christian. ‘In Christ every part of our salvation is complete.’ (John Calvin). There is no small print giving exceptions like you get with an insurance policy, In Christ everything to do with salvation is covered. This includes my sin, my body, my death, my future.
Wesley put it like this:
No condemnation now I dread
Jesus and all in him is mine
Alive in him, my living head
And clothed with righteousness divine.
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown through Christ my own.
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
2 Corinthians 5:21 – no sentence is more profound in scripture.

You can watch or listen to this sermon here

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