I don’t normally watch CSI, but there was this one episode about a woman who collected STUFF.
She suffered from a condition called disposophobia or compulsive hoarding, and at the end of the episode, two of the characters, Ray and Nick, are talking about the case. Ray tells Nick that the philosopher Erich Fromm forecasted a society that was obsessed with possessions. Fromm said that people had two basic orientations, “having” and “being.” A “having” orientation seeks to acquire or possess things, property, even people. But a person with a “being” orientation derives meaning from the experiences in life. Unfortunately, Fromm concluded that a culture driven by commercialism like the one we live in today is doomed to the “having” orientation, which leads to dissatisfaction and emptiness. Ray said, “When you consider in 1960 there was no such thing as public storage in America. Today there are over 2 billion square feet dedicated to it. Makes you think he had a point.” Can you imagine that? 2 billion square feet for more of our STUFF. We do seem to have an obsession with STUFF in our culture don’t we? We always seem to want more and more of it and we never seem to have enough. It’s interesting that the word “stuff” literally means “to fill up.” It means “to fill up” but have you ever stopped to wonder what we are filling up our lives with and why?
It reminds me of the story where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he is the living water.
Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water (meaning the water from the well) will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Are we filling up on well water or on living water? Are we filling up on well water or on living water? Probably most of us are filling up on well water. We might from time to time dip our bucket into living water, but too often we stick to what we know, and we end up thirsty again. The problem is never solved that way. As Jesus said, it only leaves us thirsty for more. And that’s the problem we have with stuff. We think it quenches our thirst, but we’re always left thirsty again. We keep gathering more stuff, sometimes different stuff, hoping to find something that will satisfy us on OUR terms the way WE want, but we don’t realize we need to change what we drink, not drink more of what we have. We need to change what we drink, not drink more of what we have. We need living water.
As you can imagine, this isn’t the only place in the Bible we hear about this problem.
In one of Paul’s letter to Timothy he talks about this exact issue with him, and we’re going to hear from Paul this morning. So if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Paul’s first letter to Timothy beginning with chapter 6, verse 3. 1 Timothy 6:3. There are many passages in the Bible about giving and I’m sure you have heard most of them, but I liked this one because Paul offers a reason for giving beyond simply “because you should.” He offers a concrete difference between people who make giving a priority and those who don’t. And he explains why it’s better to give. I believe that whenever God tells us to do something it’s always for our benefit and not necessarily for God’s. God doesn’t need anything from us, but when we listen to God, our lives become better, even if we can’t see it at the time. The same is true about giving. Sometimes it seems counterintuitive that giving up our wealth will somehow make us more wealthy, but we find out how in Paul’s letter to Timothy.
3 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
Paul basically invented the saying, “You can’t take it with you.”
He writes to Timothy, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” Of course, he might have been quoting the Psalmist who wrote (Psalm 49:16-17), “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him.” And he’s right. No matter how much STUFF we have at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. We can’t take it with us. That guy who wrote the saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins?” I wonder what he thinks you win. When you’re dead, what do you care what you left behind? Paul tells us that our goal should be “godliness with contentment.” He writes, “…godliness with contentment is great gain” but people with corrupt minds think, “godliness is a means to financial gain.” For Paul, “godliness” is living a Christ-centered life. It’s the person who devotes his life to God and seeks God first in all things. The person who has “godliness with contentment” then is the person who lives a life like this and feels satisfied because of it. They gain joy from life for having simply lived a life pleasing to God. Their reward isn’t in material wealth but spiritual satisfaction. The person who “acts Christian” however, to get more money, more possessions, more STUFF, is the one who is corrupt. They put on the air of Christianity but in the end, they only play the role because they hope it leads to more for them in this world, not the next. Paul writes that when we have the basics, food and clothing, that should be enough. When we start devoting our life to things apart from God, we get led astray. We wander far from God and far from the life that will bring us that contentment we are always seeking.
Let me give you a non-monetary example.
When I was in 4th grade, I had a crush on a girl named Karleen Boyle. I don’t know how it started, but everyday after school I would chase her out the door. Kind of a foolish way to tell a girl you like her. Go and chase her down. Pretty soon it became almost a daily competition. Sometimes her friends would join in. She had this Jabberjaw lunch pail that I got to know really well, because she would swing it at me if I got too close. There was some sort of unwritten rule that if she made it to the parking lot I would let her go. I never said I was brilliant with women. I’m still amazed Cassie agreed to marry me. But everyday after school, I would chase her and every day she escaped. Until one day, she swung that Jabberjaw lunch pail and missed. I reached out as it passed by me and grabbed her by the arm. She just looked at me as a triumphant grin spread across my face and she asked, “So what are you going to do now?” Honestly, I didn’t know. So I let her go. I had become so focused on the goal of getting her, I never really thought what I would do once I got her. Sometimes we’re like that about the material things in our life. We become so focused on it, on more money or more things or more prestige or more advancement – we become so focused on filling our lives with STUFF, that we don’t often think about what happens after we get it. And if we spend our lives trying to acquire this stuff and we find out that it doesn’t satisfy us like we hoped it would, then what? You’ve heard stories of so many people who have taken their lives or died because of an overdose who from the outside seemed to have everything only to find that there was an emptiness inside they couldn’t fill despite their wealth, fame, and popularity. Names like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, and more contemporary people like Whitney Houston, Cory Monteith, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Here’s the thing. It all comes down to this.
You have to eventually trust that God’s system works and try it for yourself. I can tell you a hundred different stories about people who have been blessed when they give more of themselves. I can tell you about people who decided to tithe and about what a blessing they have said it has been in their lives. I knew a guy who was devoted to evangelism because of the change in his life that came after he decided to tithe. He wanted more people to know the freedom he felt when he really gave his life to God. He came to church every week, he prayed, he did all sorts of things that people would consider made him a devoted Christian, but there was always a part of himself that held back from giving more. He said his family needed the money. He said he wanted to be a good provider. But only when he looked in the mirror and decided that it was all an excuse and made a commitment to give first, then his life changed and he realized that he hadn’t really been putting his trust in God at all. He has felt more satisfied about life than ever before. But there are a million stories like that. And they are all true. I can’t even name the number of people who have shared with me their stories of giving that have changed them fundamentally. And not just that, I can even give you some amazing statistics about giving. Stats that would blow your mind! Like the fact that 80% of people who tithe have no credit card debt compared to the national average of 61%. 74% have no car payments compared to the $750 billion in loans out there today. 48% have no mortgage. But as one analyst said, the tither looks at these statistics and says his life got better for giving. The doubter looks at the same stats and says to himself the tither is able to tithe because his life started off better. For all of the evidence I can share with you, it still comes down to a personal decision to do it – to give more. God wants us to give, not because he needs the money, but because when we let go of all the STUFF in our lives, our lives become better. Don’t get me wrong. I like STUFF. I’m not saying that having stuff is a sin. I’m not advocating for living like John the Baptist on honey and locusts. But I am advocating that what Ray told Nick in that CSI episode is true. The trick is to not let the STUFF get in the way. I want to challenge you that during this time of Lent to give more financially. Whether or not it’s to the church or to your favorite charity or to a cause you believe in, I want to challenge you to give more. Now, for some of you, that really isn’t possible or safe for you or your family and of course if that’s your situation just your very presence is a blessing. But for some of us, we can stretch ourselves and our faith to give more. Take the God challenge and see if making this a regular part of your life doesn’t make your entire life better. You would be surprised at the difference it can make. Take a drink of the living water and see how refreshing it can be. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.