The Treasure Principle
John Grisham’s novel “The Testament” opens with the words of a dying billionaire about to be parted from all his money. These were his final thoughts before he passed. He said…
“Down to the last day, even the last hour now. I’m an old man, lonely and unloved, sick and hurting and tired of living. I am ready for the hereafter; it has to be better than this. I own the tall glass building in which I sit, and 97 percent of the company housed in it, below me, and the land around it half a mile in three directions, and the two thousand people who work here and the other twenty thousand who do not, and I own the pipeline under the land that brings gas to the building from my fields in Texas, and I own the utility lines that deliver electricity, and I lease the satellite unseen miles above by which I once barked commands to my empire flung far around the world.
My assets exceed eleven billion dollars. I own silver in Nevada and copper in Montana and coffee in Kenya and coal in Angola and rubber in Malaysia and natural gas in Texas and crude oil in Indonesia and steel in China. My company owns companies that produce electricity and make computers and build dams and print paperbacks and broadcast signals to my satellite. I have subsidiaries with divisions in more countries than anyone can find.
I once owned the appropriate toys– the yachts and jets… the homes in Europe, farms in Argentina, an island in the Pacific, thoroughbreds, even a hockey team. But I’ve grown too old for toys. The money is the root of my misery. I had three families–three ex-wives who bore seven children, six of whom are still alive and doing all they can to torment me. To the best of my knowledge, I fathered all seven, and buried one. I should say his mother buried him. I was out of the country. I am estranged from all the wives and all the children. They’re gathering here today because I’m dying and it’s time to divide the money.”
–John Grisham, The Testament (New York: Dell Publishing, 1999), 1-2.
Whether you are rich or poor, when life comes to an end, we all leave the same way we came, with NOTHING. We all know it is true, but in the living of life we seem to forget that you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. That is because in dying we leave everything behind, except that which we sent ahead. That is the essence of the Treasure Principle that we are talking about in this series.
So many people gather so much of the world’s wealth while they are here on earth. But regardless of how much we accumulate in the living of life, it all gets left behind to be divided by those who remain after we die.
All the treasure we gather here on earth is always LEFT BEHIND.
Sadly, those who remain are often dissatisfied with the way the left-over treasures get divided. I suspect most of us have seen this happen, and some have experienced it for ourselves. I have seen so much anger, hurt feelings, and broken relationships among families fighting over the things of this world. There must a better alternative.
Laurie and I like to go to auctions…Sometimes we will attend an ESTATE AUCTION. An estate auction is often how they will dispose of the remainder of personal belongings of someone who passed away. I have a confession – Whenever I go to an estate auction, there is a distinct element of sadness for me. You’re standing there surrounded by wagons, tables, and a lawn filled with boxes and tubs of belongings of the one who has passed. I have often looked at all the stuff, as dozens of strangers mill around evaluating the desirability of a lifetime of accumulated belongings, and I find myself saddened to think, it all comes down to this?
In Luke 12:13-21, a man approached Jesus to arbitrate a dispute about an inheritance. Jesus used this opportunity to address the sin of covetousness and to warn against the danger of greed. It all began when someone in the crowd said to Jesus…“Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” – Luke 12:13 (NLT)
Jesus had been teaching on a variety of topics. Then, as if he had not been listening to a word that Jesus said, a man asks Jesus to tell his brother to divide their inheritance with him. Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” – Luke 12:14 (NLT) That may seem odd, but it was not uncommon for people in Palestine to take their unsettled disputes to respected Rabbis to help get them resolved. But Jesus was having no part of it. His mission was to seek and to save the lost. (19:10).
He was not about to allow this man, his question, or this dilemma to sidetrack Him from His mission. Jesus was a man on a mission. He did not come to judge personal disputes between people, but rather to challenge people to consider ultimate, spiritual, and eternal priorities. I think that is why He issued this warning that is relevant and applicable to all of us…Jesus said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” – Luke 12:15 (NLT)
GREED – An excessive and UNCONTROLLED desire for more
Greed is no respecter of persons. Greed can consume rich and poor alike. The rich are tempted to want even more of what they already have, while the poor are tempted to want things they have never been able to acquire. The sin that Jesus identified in this passage is not about having wealth or possessions. The sin is found in covetousness and greed.
Covetousness is a violation of the Tenth Commandment found in Exodus 20:17. The Bible also warns against covetousness in Ecclesiastes 5:10. “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! – Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NLT) The reason Jesus warned against covetousness and greed is because life is about far more than the abundance of our possessions.
Haven’t we seen that in so many stories of successful people who had it all, money, power, fame, possessions – and yet they were so empty, sad, and lonely? Athletes, Actors, and Musicians – Celebrities of all types. Jesus is teaching that…Having MORE doesn’t bring satisfaction or FULFILLMENT in life. He wants us to learn to be content with what we have, rather than have this insatiable desire for more.
T. W. Mason said, “It is true that a certain minimum of material goods is necessary for life; but it is not true that greater abundance of goods means greater abundance of life.”
Abundant POSSESSIONS do not equal an abundant LIFE.
True life is found in KNOWING and FOLLOWING Jesus. As we learn to live for Him, we begin to understand the value of what he said in our key passage for this series – Matthew 6…“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV)
Jesus clearly taught that you can’t take your treasure with you to heaven, but you can send them on ahead. That is what this series is all about. Jesus then told a parable to strengthen his warning to guard against all forms of covetousness. A parable is a simple relatable story that is used to illustrate a spiritual truth. This is what He said…“A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’” – Luke 12:16 (NLT) Jesus could have chosen any profession to make His point because none of us are exempt from the possibility of being seduced by greed.
But in this instance, he chose to illustrate His point by choosing a farmer. This farmer was incredibly blessed by God. It was a bountiful year. He apparently had a bumper crop. This year’s growing season must have been perfect with just the right amount of rain and sunshine. The farmer was wonderfully successful. He did everything right. Life was good. But there was a problem. He failed to recognize God’s provision, and he fell prey to a false sense of security.
This is what he said…“This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ – Luke 12:17-19 (NIV) Under the circumstances, building bigger barns would seem like the logical and prudent thing to do. We understand that. It sounds like a good idea. But something was missing. The rich man in Luke 12 gave no thought to the matter of STEWARDSHIP.
He failed to understand that he was a steward and God was the owner of all that he had. He didn’t seem to realize that his responsibility was to wisely manage God’s possessions, and that he was to share God’s blessings with others. He was selfish and self-absorbed. All he could think about was himself. He apparently gave no thought to God or other people. He was thinking only of himself.
Did you notice how many first-person pronouns the farmer used? What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops. I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!” This guy thought he had a storage problem. What he really had was a heart problem. He had a serious spiritual problem.
A few years ago, we did a series here at The Point called Christian Atheist. A Christian atheist is someone who believes in God, but they live as though God does not exist. This farmer was living like so many people live their lives today.
They believe in God, but they give God no consideration in their day to day lives. From a practical standpoint, they live as if God doesn’t even exist.
Like so many, this farmer’s life revolved around himself. Maybe he went to the temple. He might have even dropped a few dollars in the offering. But his life, his priorities, and his actions reveal that he has failed to understand that God is the owner of everything, and his role is to be a wise steward of God’s resources. He apparently had a very self-centered perspective on life. He failed to see the big picture.
How about you? Are you living your life for yourself? Or are you living your life for God and others? Listen to what God said to the rich man…“You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?” – Luke 12:20 (NLT) The man thought that he was taken care of. He thought he had it all figured out. He would live a life of luxury and give no thought to God, to others, or to the future. He is all set. He will just eat, drink, and be merry.
God called this man a fool because he lived his life as though God did not exist. He thought he would be able to live it up for many more years. But little did he know that very night, all of his wonderful plans would come to an end. All the barns, all the crops, all the success, all the resources, and all the material wealth would be left behind as God called his soul across the threshold of eternity. The rich man did what so many people do. The rich man made plans for this WORLD, but he failed to prepare for ETERNITY.
William Barclay tells the story of a conversation between an ambitious youth and an older man with much more life experience.
The young man, “I will learn my trade.”
The older man said, “And then?”
“I will set up in business.”
“I will make my fortune.”
“I suppose that I shall grow old and retire and live on my money.”
“Well, I suppose that someday I will die.”
Then came the last stabbing question…“And then?”
What about you? Have you thought about it? What will happen to you when you die? Here is how Jesus brings His parable to an end with this personal application. “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:21 (NLT) A fool lays up treasure for themselves here on earth and they are not rich toward God. But a wise person lays up treasures in heaven and is rich toward God.
So, what does that even mean anyway- to be rich toward God?
We are rich toward God when His glory is our greatest goal.
We are rich toward God when His worship is our strongest passion.
We are rich toward God when His fellowship is our greatest satisfaction.
We are rich toward God when His service is our deepest joy.
We are rich toward God when we give financially to see His kingdom extended.
We are rich toward God when we live utterly and completely for him.
We can enlarge our savings, and buy more stuff, and build bigger barns to hold it all. We can plan our retirement so we will have nothing to do but change positions in the sun. We can plan our menus so that nothing but the finest cuisine ever touches our lips. We can live as if this life is all there is to life. We can laugh our way all the wat to the grave—only to discover at the end that we have nothing, and we are fools in God’s eyes because we failed to live with an eternal perspective.
A better alternative is to be rich toward God because we have learned the secret of The Treasure Principle through generosity. The Treasure Principle simply states…
We know we can’t TAKE it with us, but we can SEND it on ahead.
I began this message by telling you about a scene from John Grisham’s novel The Testament, in which a dying billionaire reflects on his life as greedy relatives gather around his bedside, hoping for their share of his massive inheritance.
SPOILER ALERT – The book has a surprising ending. After the old man dies, the family gathers for the reading of his last will and testament. It was signed shortly before his death. To their complete shock, the entire fortune is granted to an illegitimate daughter none of them had ever met.
It turns out that this unexpected heiress is serving as a Christian missionary in Brazil. A lawyer was sent to find her so that she could sign the necessary documents to receive her inheritance. When this attorney finally found her, she refused to accept any part of the inheritance for herself.
The lawyer was shocked. He didn’t understand her position at all. After seeing the attitudes and behavior of the other siblings, this was not at all what he expected. This attorney also lived from the perspective that life consists in the abundance of one’s possessions. Yet, he saw that this missionary heiress had a completely different perspective because of her faith in Christ.
She lived by a different set of values. Her priorities were not the same as her siblings. She told the lawyer, “You worship money. You are part of a culture where everything is measured by money. That is your religion.” The missionary heiress had the inheritance deposited into a trust fund for the worldwide work of the gospel, including practical care for the poor in Brazil.
Remember, last week we said, the primary way to lay up treasure in heaven is by investing in God’s CAUSES and God’s PEOPLE. This missionary was laying up treasure in Heaven. She reminds me of another Christian missionary who penned these powerful words in his journal on October 28, 1949. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Jim Elliott was a young man with a deep affection for God. The image on the screen is a scanned copy of Jim Elliot’s personal journal entry, written more than 70 years ago. Jim Elliot was not well known during his life. He grew up in a Plymouth Brethren church and attended Wheaton College before following God’s call to reach Quechua Indians of Ecuador.
The thing he is most well-known for in his life is the incredible passion he had for those without Christ, which he ultimately led to his martyrdom along with four missionary friends (Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and Nate Saint) who also were killed by the very people they were trying to reach.
Jim’s legacy continues through books and movies on his life, martyrdom, and the eventual salvation and transformation of the community that killed him. I doubt that Jim Elliot ever expected anyone to read his personal journal. He had no way to know we would be talking about him today.
This is just another powerful demonstration of how God can use ordinary people to impact the world in such extraordinary ways. These words were not written to be included in a sermon or because Jim had signed a book deal with a Christian publisher. He wrote those words out of his deep affection for Christ. He was living life with an eternal perspective. He was not laying up treasure here on earth. His was laying up treasure in Heaven. This journal entry is a small reflection of his heart for Christ and the Kingdom of God.
We would all be fools not to give God all that we have and all that we are. That not easy to do if you view yourself as the owner of all that you have. But it makes all the difference in the world when you begin to see yourself as the steward or manager of things God has entrusted to your care.
“Would I be willing to give what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose?”