The Gift Exchange Series
This Advent we will not be looking at the birth narratives of Christ but rather putting a spiritual spin on some of the modern aspects of giving gifts for Christmas. I’ve entitled this series “The Gift Exchange” but this isn’t like a gift exchange you might experience with your work associates, friends, or classmates. During this series we will be exchanging our modern mindset for a spiritual perspective. There are certain aspects of the celebrating Christmas in America that are unavoidable. Such as, layaway, remembering the best gift we ever received, receiving an unexpected gift, and of course re-gifting. Each week of Advent we will be looking at these different aspects of Christmas through the lens of God’s Word.
This first week we are focusing on “Layaway.” For those of you unfamiliar with Layaway here is how it works. You pick out items you want to purchase and the merchant stores those items in what is called Layaway. You take your items to the Layaway Department, make a down payment, and the merchant stores those items for you. You make small payments over time. You can make weekly, biweekly, or even monthly payments, depending on the store’s policy. Once you pay off the total purchase price plus any layaway fees, you can take your items home.
Sounds good huh? Well, there is one possible negative aspect to Layaway. You might put too many items in Layaway and discover you don’t have the money to pay off the items. Basically your eyes were bigger than your wallet. In that case you would lose part of the money you paid on the items without ever receiving the items.
Spiritually speaking Jesus liked Layaway if a person was storing up the right items with the right motives. Jesus told us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt.6.19-21)
The issue isn’t “storing up.” The issue is what are you “storing up.” Are you storing up your treasures in an “earthly layaway” or a “heavenly layaway?” It seems that the main question Jesus is asking is, “Where is your heart?” Is your heart focused on storing up earthly treasures or heavenly treasures?
The Bible is quick to condemn “storing up” when a person becomes consumed with possessions. Jesus warns those who are storing up in the earthly layaway that there are great risks. Moths and rust can deteriorate the value and there is always the threat of thieves. Whereas, those storing up in the heavenly layaway can rest assured that their treasures imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. (IPt.1.4)
Jesus warns us about storing up in the earthly layaway in an episode that occurred in Luke chapter 12.
Now someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the
family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “You there—who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over the two of you?” But He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one is affluent does his life consist of his possessions.” And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began thinking to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and I will store all my grain and my goods there. And I will say to myself, “You have many goods stored up for many years to come; relax, eat, drink, and enjoy yourself!”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is demanded of you; and as for all that you have prepared, who will own it now?’ Such is the one who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich in relation to God.” (Lk.12.13-21)
The man in the crowd for some reason feared that his brother was trying to take his portion of the family inheritance. This individual confronts Jesus asking Him to speak to his brother. (vs.13) Even though this is a serious accusation, and if true a horrible injustice, Jesus declines to speak about civil matters that rightfully belongs in the hands of a judge or arbitrator. (vs.14) Jesus looked beyond the issue of the inheritance and discerns that the man was deceived by the prospects of receiving a windfall of money from the inheritance. Basically, Jesus once again focuses on the heart as the central issue.
Jesus takes advantage of this conversation to speak to the crowd that surrounded them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (vs.15) Jesus is urgent and passionate about the mindset that insists that life consist of possessions rather that finding ultimate pleasure in God. Sensing this man and the surrounding crowd lacked the spiritual insight to know that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions Jesus tells them a parable about a rich man whose land was very productive. (vs.16)
Jesus is not speaking against being productive, making a profit, receiving a pay increase, or our investments increasing in value. God is the master economist and He knows the world needs productive farmers and profitable businesses. The problem was the rich man’s decision to use the earthly layaway plan – to store up solely for himself, to use his prosperity exclusively for personal pleasure, and his blatant lack of concern for his spiritual health. The rich man in the parable valued earthly treasures as more valuable than treasures in heaven and being rich towards God instead of having the riches of this world. Storing up in the earthly layaway blurs our vision of what is truly valuable and it seems that the rich man in the parable had cataracts covering his eyes and was in desperate need for spiritual surgery. (Mt.6.22-23)
I again want to underscore that the Bible never condemns “storing up” for the right reasons. God did not condemn Joseph for advising Pharaoh to store up grain to protect Egypt from a coming famine. (Gen.41.33-36) As a matter of fact, Joseph’s prudent advice provided resources that eventually gave aid to Joseph’s father and brothers. (Gen.42.1) God inspired Solomon to use an ant as an example of the wisdom of storing up in the summer months to provide for personal needs that will arise during the winter months. (Pro.6.6; 30.25) Abraham was a rich man who is identified as a friend of God (Gen.13.2; Js.2.23), rich Zachaeus was called a son of Abraham (Lk.19.2, 9), and wealthy Joseph of Arimathea was a follower of the Lord. (Mt.27.57)
So once again it seems that the main question is, “Where is your heart?” Is your heart focused on earthly treasures or heavenly treasures? Are you storing up your treasures in an “earthly layaway” or a “heavenly layaway?” Are you rich towards God or are you living in spiritual poverty? Of course, everyone wants their investments to gain dividends. So I want to share two ways we can become rich towards God as we invest in heavenly treasures.
Honor the Lord from the Heart
First, we must honor the Lord from the heart and not from religious obligation or alternative motives. As a dear pants after the water brook so our souls should long for the presence of the Lord. (Ps.42.1) Our relationship with the Lord must be our most valued possession. The Apostle Paul wrote, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him. (Phil.3.8-9a) Like a spiritual accountant Paul says that he counts all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. The Apostle counts everything else as rubbish compared to knowing Christ. He says, “I have counted.” It seems that Paul has purposefully conducting a spiritual audit to determine if his relationship with Christ is his most supreme possession and I think it would be wise for us to follow his example.
Search me, God, and know my heart; put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps.139.23-24) This is the mindset of those who are passionate about their relationship with the Lord. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength. (Mk.12.30) But the fact is our love for God can wane. Our relationship with the Lord can become lukewarm. So we must conduct spiritual audits to determine if we are investing in the things of God. If not then we must repent and return to the things we did at first. We must reinvest in growing in God Word, crying out to God, and making the daily pursuit of the rule and reign of God our number one priority. (Rev.2.4, 3.16; Mt.6.33) If we implement these means of growth back into our lives we will become rich towards God. It is a guaranteed investment. We purposely set our minds on things above, not on things on earth. (Col.3.2) We look to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to conform our hearts daily into the image of Christ.
Value Doing God’s Will as Your Highest Source of Happiness
Secondly we must value doing God’s will as our highest source of happiness. Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (I Cor.10.31) The rich man in the parable wanted to eat, drink, and be merry exclusively for personal pleasure. However, the Lord taught us to seek for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Mt.6.10) Instead of tearing down his old barns and building new ones, the rich man could have told the Lord, “God, this farm is Yours. You are the One who has made my fields to prosper. Lord, show me how to use my profits for Your greatest glory. Lord, show me Your will. Not my will but Your will be done.”
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (I Tim.6.17-19)
You might have overlook these verse because you have never considered yourself to be rich. But the reality is that when you compare your income to the millions of people living in poverty especially those living in under developed countries the fact is you are the rich in this present world. The challenge is to live in the world of abundance without becoming conceited or fixing our hope on the uncertainty of riches. The challenge is to fix our hope on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. I want you to notice the play on words Paul writes, “instruct those who are rich in this present world . . . not fix their hope on riches . . . but on God, who richly supplies us with all things. Get it? Don’t fix your hope on earthly riches but fix your hope on the riches of God.
God must be our singular focus and doing God’s will must become our primary source of enjoyment. And what is God’s will? It is God’s will for you to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, and to be ready to share. Being engaged in these four things are ways we store up treasures in heaven. And what is the treasure you are storing up? You are storing up confidence that you are doing God’s will from a heart of worship and adoration to God. There is no higher pleasure and no greater sense of happiness than to know that you are doing God’s will.
Notice that those who do good, who are rich in good works, generous, and ready to share are building a good foundation for the future. The point is that the Holy Spirit gives to those who do God’s will a strong sense of stability in a shaky world. The world’s economy might be shaky but you are storing up a good foundation for the future. People who purposefully do God’s will are taking hold of that which is life indeed. These people are not fooled by thinking that doing their own will is what life is all about. No, they are taking hold of what is life indeed by doing God’s will. The rich man in the parable had not fixed his hope on God but rather on the uncertainty of riches and therefore his enjoyment was short lived. He did not engage in good works, he wasn’t generous, nor was he ready to share. One night the Lord came to him as said, “You fool! This very night your soul is demanded of you; and as for all that you have prepared, who will own it now?” Such is the one who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich in relation to God.” (Lk.12.20-21) Brothers and sisters, this is not how you want to leave this world.
The rich man showed a blatant lack of concern for his spiritual health. He said, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease.” (Lk.12.19) He rested in his wealth and worldly comforts instead of resting in Christ. People say if you have your health you have everything and as a person who suffered through the trauma of a life threatening illness I can relate to where they are coming from. But it’s not necessarily true because when you are experiencing pain and possible death your greatest concern is your spiritual health. Of course, you want to get physically healthy and you want to return to good health but the possibility of death drives you to consider your spiritual health – you want to make sure that even though your outer man is decaying that your inner man is being renewed day by day. (II Cor.4.16) This lack of spiritual concern shows how spiritually impoverished the wealthy farmer really was.
Brothers and sisters, this morning I want to challenge each one to conduct a spiritual audit to determine if your relationship with Christ is your most supreme possession. I want to challenge each of us to examine our hearts to see if doing God’s will is your highest source of happiness. I am asking for you to exchange your worldly mindset with a spiritual mindset. Are you storing up treasures on earth or treasures in heaven? Search me, God, and know my heart; put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. (Ps.139.23-24)
Call to Prayer
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided to you. (Mt.6.33)
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the multifaceted grace of God. (IPt.4.10)