FATAL DISTRACTIONS – THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS
March 16, 1997
One of my favorite sports is professional wrestling. Believe me, I use the word “sports” rather loosely. I have watched a lot of great professional wrestlers come down the line like Chief Wahoo MacDaniel, Nature Boy Rick Flair, the Von Erichs. Who can forget Andre the Giant? There is no doubt about it, though, my favorite wrestler of all time was a big, blonde-haired, burley man from Abilene, Texas, by the name of Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream. You know professional wrestlers always have a favorite hold or maneuver. Dusty’s favorite was something called the sleeper hold. He would come up behind his opponent and put his giant arms around their neck and head and squeeze. Once Dusty got you in the grip of the sleeper, the match was over.
I do have a startling revelation to make from this stage about professional wrestling. Professional wrestling is theatrical. It is fake. It is phony. I can tell that that shocked a lot of you. Speaking of wrestling and wrestling maneuvers and holds, I think that a lot of us right here during this 10:00 service in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area are in a hold. A lot of us are in a hold and it is not some fake professional wrestling maneuver, this is a real hold. Specifically, this hold can be called the grip of greed. Once you are in the grip of greed, it is usually lights out. The match is usually over. Every Saturday afternoon I would watch Dusty Rhodes being interviewed and he would say, “Let me tell you something. When I put the sleeper hold on you, Jack, you are going to go down. The man will ring the bell. It will be over.” And the same is true about the grip of greed. That is why I call greed a fatal distraction. That is why it is one of the seven deadly sins. Today we conclude this series as we talk about greed.
Greed is a very intriguing sin because it is something that I always see in someone else but I never see it in myself. Greed. The Bible talks a lot about greed. It is infested with examples about this topic. Greed caused Eve to seek the forbidden fruit. Greed caused Lot to seek the plain of Jordan. Greed caused Samuel’s sons to accept bribes. Greed caused Jacob to betray his brother Esau and get his father’s blessing. Greed caused the money changers to set up shop in the temple and greed caused Judas to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Greed ultimately caused the rich young ruler his eternity in heaven. All the people that I just mentioned were in the grip of greed and they couldn’t escape, they couldn’t get away from it.
Greed can be defined as the desire to acquire which has gone haywire. That is greed. We are bombarded with greed everywhere we turn. Advertisers spend billions of dollars and they stay up to the wee hours of the morning thinking about images and sights and sounds of their products that will infiltrate our brains and make their products seem so irresistible that we will become fixated on them and need to acquire them.
The Bible calls greed a grievous sin. Greed is listed along with such nasty counterparts as murder, deceit, sexual immorality, idolatry, and drunkenness. Usually sandwiched right in there you have the sin of greed. What is wild is that what used to be talked about as a vice, is now paraded as a virtue. We live in a world that feeds on greed. I think that we are tempted more with the sin of greed than any other generation in the history of the world. It is everywhere. What do we do about greed? How do we handle it? Can we escape its deadly grip?
Now, if you walked in this morning and opened up the bulletin and saw that today’s subject matter was on greed and said to yourself that you were really glad your spouse (friend) is here because he (she) is really greedy, don’t because this message is for you and this message is for me. This message will cause us all to squirm in our seats because it is impossible to be alive at the tail end of the 20th century and not to be affected by this overwhelming desire to acquire.
What is God’s read on greed? God says that there is only one thing that will break the grip of greed. Are you ready? Generosity. God says that generosity will break the hold for good. Generosity is the antithesis of greed. Generosity is sharing. Greed is selfishness. Generosity is open-handed and open-armed. Greed is tight-fisted and grasping. Generosity is keeping a mental list of projects and people you can help, and greed is keeping a list of things that you want, that you have just got to have.
Having said that, I want to share with you a couple of benefits regarding generosity. These benefits will really become real in our lives if we decide today to live a lifestyle of generosity. These four benefits are mentioned specifically in 2 Corinthians 9. If you have a Bible, turn there. If you don’t have a Bible, look at your neighbor’s Bible. Who knows, you could meet that special someone by sharing a Bible. You could fall in love with that special someone and marry them. That is what happened to me years ago when I met my beautiful wife, Lisa. I met her in church.
In this chapter, Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to really get out of their comfort zone and begin to be generous. I think that Paul’s words are timely in our culture, because the Las Colinians need some encouragement too. You would think, “Why in the world do Christians need to be encouraged to give? Why?” We should be the most generous people in the world. We serve a generous God. He has given His grace to us in such abundance. Why do we have to be encouraged? Well the answer is, we are sinners, that is why and we have to be encouraged to give.
Let’s talk about the first benefit. If I live a life of generosity, I will be blessed bountifully. The great thing about God is this. God tells us the good stuff that will happen if we follow him. God commands us to give. He commands us to be generous. It is not a suggestion. He said give. Look at 2 Corinthians 9:6, “Whoever sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly and whoever sows generously, will also reap generously.”
Now for those of us who are city slickers, we have a tough time comprehending this agricultural verse, unless you happen to be an Aggie from Texas A&M. If you sow a little bit of seed, you won’t reap very much. If you sow a lot of seed, you will reap a lot. Back in Biblical times, for example, wheat had a 30-fold return. You plant 10 bushels of wheat, you will collect 300 bushels of wheat. God says, if you are generous then you will be blessed bountifully.
Malachi 3:10 says that if you are generous, God will throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. We get a great return, ladies and gentlemen, on our generosity. Here is the Biblical pattern. We get to give. We get to give. We get to give. We don’t give to get but we are going to get when we give. Are you giving? If you are giving, you are getting.
How does God bless us when we give? He blesses us financially. Many of you are not that smart. I can tell. But you are making a lot of money and you are saying to yourself, “Man, I know I am not that smart, why am I making so much money? I wonder why God is blessing me financially.” You are being blessed bountifully because chances are you are generous and if you are generous, God is going to bless you. He will bless you financially.
That is not the only way, though. He can also bless you in ways that money can’t even touch. If you are a generous person, He can bless you with an unusual discernment in decision making. He can bless you by giving you relationships like no other person encounters. He can bless you by giving you physical health. There is a myriad of ways that God wants to bless you bountifully.
There is a second benefit. After we are blessed bountifully, it even gets better. We also, because of our generosity, can stir the souls of others and this is great. 2 Corinthians 9:2, “Your enthusiasm has stirred most of them….” I love that, has stirred most of them, not all of them, because you are always going to have some misers out there. But Paul says, “…has stirred most of them to action.” We are going to get all this stuff. Living a life is living a life of getting.
There are two types of getters. The first type of getter is one that God does not like. They are called Velcro getters. You know Velcro getters? They receive things but they just stick to them, kind of like that David Letterman wall of Velcro. A lot of you walk around with things hanging all over you. “That’s mine!” Don’t be a Velcro getter. Take the Velcro off and put on a Teflon outfit. God wants us to be Teflon getters. Teflon getters receive stuff and it just slides off of them. They get to give. They get to give. They get to give.
Proverbs 11:24-25, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” In other words, Paul is saying that your giving, your obedience, your generosity has so stirred the souls of others it has caused them to be generous. It has caused them to praise God. So people will praise God because of your example and my example of giving. And I will tell you something. Your generosity here to this church by giving of your money, your abilities, your time has stirred me and satisfied my soul and has really fired me up. You are also stirring and satisfying the souls of others who are just checking you out, who are watching you.
The third benefit of living a life of generosity is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7. Not only will I be blessed bountifully, not only will I stir the souls of others, I can also experience unbridled excitement. Before I read this verse, I was thinking this past week about some people in my life that I know who are generous. I was trying to list some character qualities. They are people who have great relationships. They are people who are visionary. They are people who have a lot of endurance. The net of it is, they are people of excitement, unbridled excitement. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each person should give what he decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” This word “cheerful” in the Greek is pronounced hi-lar-i-ous. So when the offering plate is passed we should be joyful and hilarious.
I have never in my life met a negative, generous person, have you? I never have. If you have met a negative, generous person, please see me after the service. I will be right out there. Tell me if you can, but I believe it is impossible.
Write two words besides this verse. Write the word “window” and the word “knitting.” When I give to someone in need or to the local church, it will open up windows of opportunity for God to step into my life and to supernaturally intervene and to bless me; and especially, God will intervene in the financial domain. Over the last 15 years Lisa and I have been generous to the church. I have seen miracle after miracle after miracle take place because God supernaturally intervened in the finances of my life. Open the window and—wow—God is there.
Knitting. When I give to you, when I give to a church, it knits my soul either with you or with the church. Have you ever received a gift from someone totally out of the blue? And your soul is knit with the person. See this coat and these pants? Pretty cool. A year ago a friend of mine just gave them to me out of the blue. Once he gave these to me, it knit my heart with his heart. Now you take that little feeling and multiply it to the billionth power and you have not scratched the surface on the feeling of knitting you will have when you give for God’s work and for God’s economy and for God’s agenda.
The fourth implication that I want you to notice about a life of generosity, the life will grow in grace. 2 Corinthians 9:13, “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves….” He was saying that the Corinthians were putting their money where their mouth was. Their walk and their talk were matching. “…men will praise God for the obedience.” Every time I talk about generosity and every time I talk about money and every time I talk about giving there is always a group of people who silently shake their heads and say to themselves, “Well I can’t believe it. There they go, talking about money again. They are talking about possessions again. Man, I go to church once a year and here they are talking about money. Money, money, money, money.”
Well, let me say this to you. We love you and God loves you and we don’t talk about money all the time. But we do talk about it in a very uncompromising way. Why? Because God talks about it in a very uncompromising way. For example, one out of every ten verses in the gospels deal with money. There are 500 verses on prayer in the Bible, 500 verses on faith in the Bible, and 2,300 verses in the Bible on money and possessions. Sixteen out of Christ’s 38 parables had to do with money. So now you see why we talk about it.
One day I am going to be judged and held accountable on how I taught you. And God is going to ask me this question, “Ed, did you teach them about generosity and money? Did you teach them My Word?” And I have got to look at God and say yes. I am not going to withhold this blessing that God wants to pour out on your life. I am not going to withhold the ability that you will have to stir the hearts of others. I am not going to withhold the excitement that will be unbridled when you give. I am not going to withhold your growing and developing in grace like God wants you to grow and develop.
Now having said that, let’s kind of talk about some practical things that we can do. First let me read a verse of scripture that relates to greed and it also relates to wrestling. Luke 12:15, “Be on guard against every form of greed….” Now when someone was fighting Dusty Rhodes in the squared circle (only wrestling fans understand the squared circle), they would always watch him carefully. He was quick as a cat to come up behind them and put them in the sleeper hold. They were on guard against the sleeper hold. We have got to be on guard against the grip of greed. “Be on guard against every form of greed since life doesn’t consist of the things we possess.”
So having said that I want to share with you four maneuvers that we need to learn today to escape the grip of greed. Maneuver number one: we need to learn and develop the ability to admire an object without having to own it. This ability will save you thousands and thousands of dollars. All of us have something in our lives that, if we get it out of focus, can become a fixation. We will then have that desire to acquire gone haywire and we will get into greed. We all have it. Don’t say you don’t because all of us do. When that happens, our goods become gods and God says that when you do that you have stepped over the line and you are into the grip of greed.
But if you learn how to appreciate the beauty of something without having to own it, that is just wonderful. Just think about it. You don’t have to insure it, you don’t have to maintain it, you don’t have to shine it, you don’t have to watch it depreciate. You can say, that is a great looking car, a great looking dress or suit, a great looking house. There is nothing wrong with admiring something that is beautiful. We are applauding the creative genius of God. That is the first maneuver, it is not easy to do.
The second maneuver: we have got to learn the secret of giving stuff away. We have got to learn to give items that we are holding onto too tightly away. And that always breaks the grip of greed. I try to do this periodically in my life. When I am holding on too tightly to something, I give it away. Now the homework is going to be tough on this one. Over the next seven days, I am going to challenge you to give something that means a lot to you to another person. And it cannot be a family member! “Here, honey.” No. Every time we give we are escaping the grip of greed. We just reverse the hold on the evil one. Give away something that means a lot to you. It could be any one of a number of things. Maybe God is leading you to give a gift to this church that will give your accountant a coronary, I don’t know. But something. What is it?
The third maneuver is to develop what the Bible calls contentment. When the Bible talks about contentment, it is not talking about a lack of ambition or a lack of drive. The Bible never says that it is God’s will for Christians to be poor. Some of the wealthiest people ever to walk the face of the earth were Christians. Trust me. Read the Bible and see. You see, money is neutral. Either you have money or money has you. We have to be content with where we are. We have to be content with who we are. Contentment is not what we don’t have or what we are going to have, it is who we are in Christ. Once we realize who we are in Christ, that is when true contentment will overpower us and ambush us.
I want to ask you a question. If you remain financially at the same level you are now for the rest of your life, would you be happy? Would you be content? Would you be joyful? If not, you might want to do a check because you could be in that grip of greed.
In Luke 12 a man came up to Jesus one day. He told Jesus that his wealthy father had died leaving his inheritance to his two sons but that his older brother had taken it all. He wanted Jesus to step in and help him. Jesus said something that was really different. He said that life does not consist of possessions. And it doesn’t. Things are great but things don’t bring lasting joy. I know a lot of wealthy people who live bankrupt lives, don’t you? Learn the secret of what the Bible calls contentment.
The fourth maneuver: learn the reality of death and how it relates to the grip of greed. Death is the final failure of things, wouldn’t you agree? All the stuff we accumulate doesn’t mean much when you contemplate death. This was deposited deep within my spirit over the last couple of days. Many of you know that Lisa and I got the tragic news that her father suddenly had died. The most draining thing that I have ever done in my life was to stand before a packed out church and deliver his funeral message. You see, Mendel was my father-in-law, but in a real sense you could take out the in-law part. I have known him since I was 14 years of age. He watched me grow up. I took vacations with his family. He watched me play high school basketball. He watched me ride the bench at Florida State. He watched me go into the ministry and move from Houston to start this church. As I was thinking about his life, I said to myself and to God, “What a generous man.”
Of all the people I have ever known, he has to be at the top of the list as far as generosity goes. I watched Mendel while growing up share his faith with a neighbor who was very negative. This neighbor ridiculed him about his faith. Fifteen years later, I watched Lisa’s father lead this man to a personal relationship in Christ. I watched him one day pull over to the side of the road and assist a family whose car had broken down. I watched him offer them his car. Talk about generosity. I watched Mendel and his wife take in a couple who were living together, who were brand new Christians. I watched them disciple them and show them what the Bible said about sexual purity. I watched them help the couple move to separate residences so that they could regain sexual purity until marriage. I watched Mendel pay for their wedding. I watched him give the girl away in marriage. I watched them take in a man for four months who had just lost his job at Sams. He lived at their house rent free.
A couple of days after he died I was looking over his financial records. He kept meticulous records. He did not have great worldly wealth. He was a retired postal worker who did some land surveying on the side. Yet, every week he listed a generous check to his church. He was living off of social security. Then to my amazement, I saw that he had sent checks to our church. I just dropped my eyes and told God that I wanted to be that kind of man. I want to escape the death lock of greed and become generous in everything. I really, really do.
You know professional wrestling always had its tag team matches. One wrestler would be standing on the ring apron. He would extend his hand if the other wrestler is in trouble, in some kind of hold. All the other wrestler would have to do was to extend his hand back and kind of touch his partner’s hand and he would jump over the ring ropes and save the day. Are you feeling right now that you are in the grip of greed and you can’t get away? Do you feel entangled? Do you feel it is lights out? Do you feel like the man is getting ready to ring the bell? I have got some great news for you. God is in your corner. God is on the ring apron. He is stretching His arms to you and all you have to do is kind of touch His hand. The moment you touch His hand, He will come in and deliver you from the grip of greed.