- Adam Schell
There are some things in our culture that we just don't talk about. There are some subjects that are simply taboo. And for the most part, we never even think about bringing them up. Because we all know that you're not supposed to talk about things like politics or religion when you're having dinner.
But in America today, there is one topic above all others that we simply do not discuss. We don’t talk about money.
We don’t talk about money.
According to a survey conducted by Wells Fargo not too long ago, 44% of Americans list personal finances as the most difficult thing for them to discuss. Number two on that list was death. That means we'd rather talk about our own funeral than try to discuss how we're going to pay for it.
But money is exactly what we're going to be talking about today at Melbourne Heights. And that’s because we are in the middle of a sermon series we’re calling Overwhelmed. And in this series, we’re talking about subjects that can overwhelm us all. We’re talking about subjects that stress us out and can make us feel defeated…and money can be overwhelming.
Money can be overwhelming.
According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of adults in America report feeling stressed out or overwhelmed about money at least some of the time. And 26% say they feel overwhelmed about money all the time. And that's a big deal. Because those statistics say that three-fourths of the people listening to this sermon worry about money. And a quarter of us are worried about money right now.
So we've got to overcome the taboo of talking about money, especially in church. And I think the best way for us to do that is to tackle a couple of bad assumptions that we, in the church, often make about money.
Now, the first bad assumption that we make is that money is evil. And it's all because the Bible says that money is the root of all evil, right? Only the Bible doesn't say that. The Bible actually says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
So what we need to realize is that money is amoral. Money isn’t good. Money isn’t bad. Money is just a tool. So you can use money to buy illegal drugs but you can also use money to provide medicine for cancer patients. And yes, you can use money to buy certain magazines from the shady section of gas stations but you can also use money to buy books that will help a child learn to read.
Or, as the financial expert Dave Ramsey puts it, “Money is like a brick. You can take that brick and you can throw it through a window. Or you can use it to build a hospital. The brick doesn't care. It's just a brick.” Money doesn't care what you use it for either. It's just money. It's a tool. It's up to each of us to decide how we're going to use it for ourselves.
The other bad assumption that we make when it comes to talking about money is that whenever someone wants to talk about money they really just want to give us a sales pitch. We figure that if we don't make enough money, then that person is about to try to rope us into some kind of get-rich-quick scheme. But if we do have a comfortable life, then we know that that person's going to ask us to help them line their pockets with a little bit of our hard-earned money.
The truth is, the church hasn't been that different. We've all seen those shady televangelists pop up on our TV screens when we've been channel surfing in the middle of the night. And we've all heard them make their promise that if we'll just make a donation of $19.95 to their church, then they will send us a holy trinket to guarantee our financial success, like one of the five stones that David used to slay Goliath. But you must act fast. The offer is only good for the first 10,000 callers. And many of us have sat in sanctuaries on a Sunday morning when the pastor's dusted off an old sermon from Malachi 3, where God says:
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.
Malachi 3:8-10 (New International Version)
And then spent the next 30 minutes of our time guilt-tripping us about giving more to the church.
But here's the truth. I'm not talking about money today because I want to warn you about the dangers of money. I've already told you, money's not good or bad. It's just money. And I'm not talking about money today because I’m trying to get my hands into your wallets.
I'm talking about money today because we're all worried about money. We all know that inflation is at a 40-year high. The Consumer Price Index has increased 8.6% from last year – which means that something that cost you a $100 last year now costs you $108.60. And the stock market is down almost 6,000 points so all of our 401(k)s feel more like 201(k)s.
And since we are all worried about money, it might just help if we listen to what the Bible really has to say about money. And one of my favorite passages in the Bible about money is found in the book of Matthew. Now, the book of Matthew is a biography of Jesus. And in Matthew 25, Jesus tells us a parable — or a short story with a point — about money. So let's take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 25, starting in verse 14. Jesus says:
14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 After a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.”
21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.”
23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.”
26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.
Matthew 25:14-28 (New Revised Standard Version)
Now this passage of Scripture refers to a talent. And when we think about a talent in the 21st century, we think of a special ability or aptitude that someone has – like when we tune in and watch a show like America's Got Talent. So whenever I've heard someone preach about the parable of the talents that has almost always been what they’ve focused on…using our ability and aptitude to serve God.
But that's just one way that we can interpret this passage of Scripture. So what happens if we try to interpret it another way? What happens if we take it a little more literally and we remember that the word talent in the ancient world referred to real money?
Well, then we'd have to understand what a talent was worth. So what was a talent worth? Was it worth a penny, a quarter, a dollar, or maybe even $100 bucks? Nope. One talent was worth roughly 6,000 denarii. And you might be aware that one denarius was the equivalent to one day's wages. So one talent was worth 6,000 days of work…that’s over 16 years' worth of work.
So let’s talk about what 6,000 denarii would be worth today. In America, the average person works 260 days each year and they earn just over $31,000 for their work. So this means that the average person earns about $120 per day. And if you earn $120 per day for 6,000 days, you would earn $720,000.
But there’s one more thing we need to factor in to truly appreciate the value of a talent. The average life expectancy in the first century — which is when this parable of the talents was first told — was less than half of what it is now. So in modern-day America, we expect that people are going to work for at least 40 years. But in ancient Israel, the average person only worked for about 16 years. So the 16 years' worth of wages actually represents what a typical person would have earned in their entire working life. In the United States today, the average worker will earn close to $2 million in their lifetime. So the modern equivalent of just one talent is more like $2 million today.
Now, I know that I just spent the last couple of minutes of this sermon doing math…and I'm sure it was utterly riveting for all of us. But there's a reason why I did it. In this parable, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like a master who gives his servants money. But we're not just talking about a few bucks here. The master gives his servants millions of dollars – somewhere around $16 million if you want to be exact. The master gives them all of the resources that they will need and use in a lifetime. But the master expects a return on his investment.
So how does that apply to us and our money? Well, the first thing that we have to understand about money is that our money is a gift from God.
Our money is a gift from God.
And that’s true whether we have a little or a lot. It’s true whether we have one talent or ten. So even though we often like to think of money as something that we've worked hard to earn, the reality is that God has given each of us the abilities and the applicable skills that we can take in the marketplace to earn a living. So every dime and every dollar that we earn aren't really ours…it’s a gift that God has entrusted each of us with.
And God has entrusted us with this gift for several reasons. First, God wants us to be able to provide for ourselves and our families. God wants us to have food on our tables, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads. But that's not all. God also wants us to be able to enjoy life. Remember, Jesus tells us that God wants us to have an abundant life…a life that is filled with life. So it's not a bad thing for us if we spend a little money going on vacation, or seeing a movie, or doing something that we enjoy with the money we have.
But God also wants us to be able to help others with the money that we've been blessed with. Because let's face it, if you're broke, you can't help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give the thirsty a drink, or care for a stranger.
But how does all of this help us deal with the stress that we feel about money?
Well, when we see money as a blessing from God and something that God expects us to use as an investment in God's kingdom, then we start to view it and use it a little differently. When we start to see that God has given us every dime and every dollar then we understand that God expects a return on the investment that's been made in us.
And that means we have to have a plan when it comes to our money.
We have to have a plan when it comes to our money.
Because this isn't really our money. This is God's money. And we’re going to be held accountable by God for how we choose to use it.
We have a fancy word we use when we talk about making a plan for our money. You've probably heard it before. We call it a budget. And a budget lets us set the priorities for our finances. And there are essentially three priorities that we all have when it comes to our money. We're all going to spend some of it. We're all going to save some of it. And we're all going to give some of it away.
Spending takes care of the basic things that we need. It pays for your mortgage or rent and your water bills, it covers your groceries and your car insurance. It even gives you permission to splurge from time to time on those small luxuries in life.
Giving is a portion of how we repay God's investment in us. So we give to the church. Or we give to other nonprofit organizations and charities. We can give by picking up the tab for another family when we've gone out to lunch. It doesn't so much matter how you give or what you give to. But we all give some of our money away.
And yeah, we all need to save some of our money. We need to save for retirement. We need to save to help put our kids and grandkids through college. We need to save to put new tires on our cars or to fix a leaky roof. And if we actually save the money — instead of borrowing it from a credit card company — we'll have more money that we can spend and give.
And that's really the trick when it comes to reducing stress about money, you have to have a plan. Because here's the interesting thing, about 30% of Americans make and use a monthly budget. But about 70% of Americans worry about money. So maybe just maybe the 30% of people who aren't worried about money are the ones who actually have a plan for their money.
So if you're struggling financially, or if you're just worried about money, from time to time, you have to have a plan for your money. You have to set priorities for how you’re going to use your money. Now, if you are really overwhelmed by money I know that listening to me for 25 minutes isn’t enough to take away your stress. So, we’ve got some resources on our blog if you need more help. And, if that’s not enough, you can always reach out to me directly.
Because in the end, God will hold you accountable for how you've used your money. And all of us when it's said and done, want to hear our master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You've been faithful in handling the investment that God has made in you.”