Saturday, 26 November 2016

A big fat false god

We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that... Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God... Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share... 1 Timothy 6:7-8, 17-18.

Aren’t some things just so annoying!

I’m writing on “Black Friday”, and my inbox this morning was loaded with adverts telling me to take advantage of this great opportunity to get something cheap. This, half-price! Twenty per cent off that! Your last chance! Only twenty-four hours to go! Hurry, hurry! 


Black Friday? What’s that anyway? What indeed! I hadn’t even heard of it till a few weeks ago. But of course it’s the latest import from across the Atlantic (I live in England), joining Halloween as a major annual event. It’s the day after Thanksgiving Day when people in America are still off work and thus free to do some more than usually crazy shopping.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not a complete kill-joy - I like a good, honest bargain as much as anyone. But that really isn’t what all this is about, is it?

Now, if you happen to be reading this in America, please don’t take offence! I am the first to recognise the many good and admirable things about your country, mainly on the basis of the delightful Americans I know and three brief but memorable visits. But...

What on earth are we in Britain doing celebrating something that belongs to you over there? What fools we are! How can we fail to see that it’s all about making money?

There was an article in the paper this morning saying that half the bargains people buy on Black Friday end up in the rubbish (or should I say garbage?) bin. We buy things, it seems, not because we need them or possibly even particularly want them - but because they are there, and we really must go with the flow. Bah!!!

And so to the words of Paul, all wisdom, sanity and common sense... “We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” He urges Timothy to preach that one sign of a child of God is contentment with the basic needs of life (remembering too, of course, that there are millions in this world who lack even these).

The Bible tells us in many places to stop worshipping in the temple of the great god mammon (mammon means money, or material things in general). Jesus told the famous story of “the rich fool” (Luke 12:13-21). Having devoted his time and energy to getting richer and richer, he decides to stop, put his feet up, and enjoy the fruits of his labour. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” 

Death makes the billionaire and the beggar totally equal with one another.

Going back to 1 Timothy, it’s typical of the Bible not only to tell us what we shouldn’t do - the negative side of things - but also to outline what we need to replace it with: “Command [the rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

To be personal for a moment, I must confess that I don’t really think of myself as rich. I’ve never earned much money, but I’ve got along pretty well and never lacked for anything I seriously needed. But if I am completely honest I have to face the fact that in the context of the world’s population I am rich. Very likely you are too.

So these words apply to me and you. The Bible is telling us: Be a giver, not a getter! Cultivate a generous heart and an open hand! As Jesus put it, “don’t store up treasures on earth”, where they are prey to decay and death, but “store up treasures in heaven” - where nothing passes away, because it is only good (Matthew 6:19-20). 

So it’s not enough to keep clear of Black Friday and all the nonsense that goes with it. That’s only a start. Our business is to look at what wealth we have and say, “Now, Lord, what good can I do with this? How can I turn these pounds/dollars into blessing for someone else?”

Jesus tells us that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20: 35). And you know what? He actually meant it. Let’s prove it true!

Heavenly Father, thank you for the word of Jesus, “You can’t serve God and Mammon.” Forgive me if I have been trying to do that, and help me to make you lord and master of all I own. Amen.

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