Thursday 13 October 2011

Rich enough

Most sermons on money and God deal with either faithfulness or greed. We have to be faithful with our money: investing wisely what God has entrusted to us for his kingdom. We should be wary of greed: of making money an idol and forsaking the God who blesses us with our money, income and livelihood.

This week’s passage is unique.

In dealing with wealth, Jesus addresses neither the problem of greed nor the importance of faithfulness. Elsewhere in the bible, Jesus has much to say on these two issues, yet here in the book of Revelation he confronts Christians in the city of Laodicea with a condition he calls “lukewarmness”.

But what does it mean to be lukewarm?

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Revelation 3:15-16

Some say it is indecision. These Christians didn’t want to get sucked into worldliness. But they dare not commit to God either. Like a spiritual Switzerland*, the Christians in Laodicea sat on a fence, preferring not to take sides in any issue that might cause trouble in the church or conflict with their non-Christian friends.

Others say it has to do with their affections. The honeymoon is over and their relationship with Jesus has cooled. Going to church is routine. Serving God is a chore. They still turn up for the occasional bible study or Sunday service at Christmas, only to sneak out early before the closing hymn, whispering, “Traffic.”

Yet there is no need to speculate. Jesus tells us exactly what he means by lukewarmness in the very next verse.

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Revelation 3:17

I call this being ‘rich enough’. You are not greedy for more and there is nothing in the passage to suggest you are stingy with what you have. It is a form of contentment - satisfaction, even. In fact, you may look at the material wealth you have received and rightfully acknowledge God as the giver of all good things.

Yet, says Jesus, you do not realise how “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” you truly are.

Furthermore, this isn’t just about money. Laodicea was a banking centre - meaning their wealth was a result of shrewd investment and skilled entrepreneurship. Jesus refers to this when he counsels them to buy from him “gold refined in the fire”. They had a thriving textile industry - exporting wool to the neighbouring regions - yet Jesus says only he provides “white clothes” to cover their nakedness. Finally, Laodicea was famous for it’s medical school - there were lots of doctors in this church. But Jesus says they need “salve” to put on their eyes, so they can see.

Now, doesn’t the bible does teach us that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6)? So, what’s the problem? They were contented not with God but with having gain. It is like asking God for that plum job but nothing more. Asking God for your kid to get into uni and nothing more. Asking God for that boyfriend or girlfriend; the happy marriage with two kids, a cat, a dog and a house with a decent garden. And nothing more.

It is finally getting that job, the place in that uni, the happy marriage, the two kids and the swanky bachelor pad in the city - the very things you have yearned for and prayed earnestly to God for - and then saying to Jesus, “I am rich. I do not need a thing.”

“You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” Jesus says. They weren’t cold - as in, they weren’t entirely devoid of blessing or wealth. Yet at least if they were physically poor, they might have recognised their spiritual poverty. At the same time, they were not “hot” either. They measured wealth in terms of money and gold - the Laodiceans had lots of both - and yet Jesus could say to them, “Buy gold from me so that you can become rich.” He does want them to be wealthy, only on an entirely different scale. The question is what? What is this scale or measure of wealth that Jesus is talking about?

I think the clue lies in his closing words.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Revelation 3:21

It is all too easy to dismiss these words. Jesus tells every single one of the seven churches to “overcome” in Revelation - to overcome their sin, their temptation, their weakness, their suffering. And yet this is the only time Jesus says he also overcame. He compares their struggle in overcoming lukewarmness to his own victory on the cross. It is that serious. It is that significant.

And the reward Jesus offers is not simply salvation but true wealth. Or, true riches. He says “I will give (the overcomer) the right to sit with me on my throne.” Now why I do I say this is a picture of true wealth? Because of Ephesians 2:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 2:6-7

God wants to display his wealth through us. It an “incomparable” wealth; meaning it is vast beyond comparison. That is why he saved us, raised us, and seated us with Christ - to display in our lives and in the coming ages the vast extent of his wealth and riches. Yet this is wealth that is measured not in silver nor gold, but in terms of grace, mercy and kindness shown us in Christ Jesus.

Don’t settle for anything less. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus says, “for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Hunger for this true wealth. Yearn for it. Keep begging God to fill you with his grace, mercy and kindness through Jesus Christ displayed so clearly to us on the cross.

And he will.

Hungry I come to You
For I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know
Your love does not run dry
So I wait for You
So I wait for You

I'm falling on my knees
Offering all my needs
Jesus You're all
This heart is living for
(“Hungry” by Kathryn Scott)

* An illustration I heard Sunday at StAG

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