The Desire to Be Rich
18th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 21) LSB #688
Text – 1 Timothy 6:9
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless & harmful desires that plunge people into ruin & destruction.
THE DESIRE TO BE RICH
Two men ended up shipwrecked on an island. The minute they got to land one of them started screaming frantically, “We’re going to die! We’re going to die! There’s no food! No water! We’re going to die!” The other man propped himself up against a palm tree & rested calmly. It made the 1st man even crazier: “Don’t you understand? We are going to die here!”
The man leaning against the tree simply replied, “You don’t understand. I make $100,000 a week.” The 1st man looked at him dumbfounded & yelled, “What difference does that make? We’re on an island with no food or water! You can’t buy anything here. We’re going to die!”
The wealthy man answered, “Let me explain it to you in more detail. I make $100,000 per week, & I tithe 10% of that every week. We don’t have to worry. My pastor is going to find me!”
Naturally, that leads to a very obvious question, “If you were stranded on an island in the Pacific Ocean, would your pastor bother to come looking for you?” I realize that’s a pretty harsh question, but it does drill down right to the heart of the issue. Giving away our money runs totally contrary to the desire to be rich.
Of course, it doesn’t say much either, for your pastor, if money is the driving force behind his willingness to search for you. According to Jesus, the shepherd is supposed to leave the 99 in order to find the one who is lost, but pastors are sinners too. A little motivation helps sometimes. Have you been giving your pastor any reason to come searching for you should you end up lost? Thank God that Jesus came for us while we were yet sinners, & not because of the amount of money we were giving in our offerings. The fact that news reports occasionally highlight how many billionaires there are in the world, shows that money still grabs the attention of people.
It does so because there is a longing in everyone’s heart for control & security. We’d be less than honest if we try to make the case that money is not the quickest way there. Granted, in light of eternity, control & security here on earth is an illusion, but money does talk. It’s a fact that cannot be denied, in the world in which we live.
Our Father in heaven is well aware of those facts & His Spirit inspired St. Paul to write the words of warning to Timothy because of that. In spite of its warning, many preachers & teachers of God’s Word have fallen because of the desire to be rich. We don’t need a puzzle to illustrate the issues for this sermon. They are all alive & well right in your heart & in mine.
Thus, St. Paul writes to warn Timothy, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith & pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (6:10) People desire riches for control & security, but that isn’t what they end up with. Rather, all kinds of evils are what they get, if not losing their faith.
Satan tempted Eve by saying, “You will not surely die.” Eve gave in to the temptation when she, “…saw that the tree was good for food, & that it was a delight to the eyes, & that the tree was to be (here’s a key word) desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit & ate…” Eventually, regardless of the devil’s promise, Eve died.
The desire to be rich is just as deadly. Once we begin to have “enough” money, it tends to get more & more difficult to let go of. There are a lot of things money can buy, & the culture of our nation for 60 years now, has been built upon buying stuff, & lots of it. You can know pastors & people by their fruits, such as greed. The Apostle Paul is making that point as he writes to Timothy. What do the fruits of your life reveal? The next four Sundays we will be hearing sermons that look at the fruits of our lives. We’ll be considering four broad categories of the blessings our heavenly Father has given us, & how His children make use of them.
People desire riches for control & security, but those blessings reside entirely in the hands of our heavenly Creator. He gives them as He chooses, but ultimately the only security we ever have is in God’s love for us that He demonstrated so clearly on the cross at Golgotha. As for our desire to be in control that is pure idolatry.
The Bible teaches us to practice self-control. Our sinful nature rejects that &, instead, wants to control others. That’s why these words are so descriptive of human attitudes, “Do as I say, not as I do.” All of us, black & white, rich & poor, male & female, are hypocrites at heart.
From the Gospel reading, once the rich man is in hell, then he finally acknowledges his need for Lazarus, the poor man who’d laid on his doorstep for so many years: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, & send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water & cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”
Jesus knows well the temptation involved in desiring riches. He lived His life on earth in poverty. Then, He was betrayed for money, by the man who was stealing it from the offerings people gave to Jesus in support of His ministry. Judas was a thief in more ways than one, yet the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world called him, “Friend…” (Matthew 26:50 ESV)
If you want to fight the temptation to pornography, it’s obvious you need to get rid of the pornography. If you want to fight the temptation to be in total control, it’s obvious you need to completely give up control. If you want to fight the desire to be rich, it should be clear that you need to give up your wealth. Share it in this life before you lose it in the next, as the rich man from the Gospel reading did. God teaches us to give offerings generously, not because He is greedy, but because our Lord knows how powerful a temptation wealth can be. That which our sinful heart desires most is exactly what we need to give away in order to combat the temptation. Every Sunday we have an opportunity to put faith into practice by giving.
Our heavenly Father, out of love for us, calls us to give of our money out love for His forgiveness. He calls us to give of our time, our energy, our talents & abilities, our knowledge & experience, to give of our very heart & soul, to give of all our blessings so that the things of this world do not become more important than the things of the next world.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart & with all your soul & with all your strength & with all your mind, & your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere does the Gospel of Luke tell us to love money. “But if we have food & clothing, with these we will be content.” The desire to be rich leads to spiritual & eternal destruction. It never gains contentment.
St. Paul began this section of teaching with these words, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.” What our heart & soul feel as missing in our lives is not something that can be gained with riches. Security, peace & contentment come only from resting in the fact that our heavenly Father truly does love us even while we are lost.
He sent His only-begotten Son to search for you. Jesus gave up the wealth & splendor of heaven to suffer a horrible death here on earth, so that you could experience, forever, the utter bliss of paradise. He’d be the greatest of fools to have suffered crucifixion for a lie.
And it’s not just God’s word, but the witness of His human disciples who were called specifically for the purpose of testifying to the truth of Jesus’ claims. 1 John 1:1 tells us this concerning our Savior: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon & have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” Jesus is that Word of life & His disciples gave their lives in order to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus & His glory, of Jesus & His love.
Whatever riches our Lord gives to us in this life vanish from our hands the moment we die. The love that Christ gives to us will last forever & ever. Our sins of greed have been paid for, but they still vex us in this life. True contentment comes from taking hold of eternal life, & believing it & living it. Your sinful nature is dead. It’s time to stop listening to it.
Jesus is done giving His life for you, but He never quits giving His life to you. If He offered millions of dollars you’d scramble to take it. Somehow, when He offers His life to us, in His Word & Holy Communion & Baptism, we find it difficult to make the time to receive it.
Death was rapidly approaching for St. Paul. In that context he urges his protégé Timothy not to get sucked into the scramble for the temporary things of earth, but to strive for the eternal, & far more beneficial, things of heaven:
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called & about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
In today’s sermon text, God is not condemning wealth, but He is strongly warning us against the desire to be wealthy. That desire is a lust which will devour us; a deadly condition of the heart that our Savior is warning us against. He came to earth, searching for you, even if your pastor does not, while you were still lost in your sins & your fallen desires.
In Matthew 6:33, the antidote for such a condition is given: “But seek 1st the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be added to you.” It’s true, here on earth God may choose to add wealth to you, but come the day of your death that wealth will certainly be taken from you. In heaven, all God’s children will be living in the lap of luxury, it will never
be taken from us, & best of all, we will never get spoiled or corrupted by any of it. Amen.
“Come, follow Me,” the Savior spake, “All in My way abiding; deny yourselves, the world forsake, obey My call & guiding. O bear the cross, whate’er betide, take My example for your guide.” I teach you how to shun & flee what harms your soul’s salvation, your heart from every guile to free, from sin & its temptation. I am the refuge of the soul & lead you to your heavenly goal. Amen. LSB 688:1, 4.
 Genesis 3:6 ESV
 Luke 10:27 ESV
 1 Timothy 6:8 ESV
 1 Timothy 6:6 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet