Message preached on Sunday, July 19, 2009
Food, clothing, shelter, employment—these are the essentials of life, aren’t they? But I want to add one more to this list of essentials: shopping. Without shopping you can’t get your food and clothing. You have to shop around for shelter and employment too.
Shopping wasn’t always the way people went about choosing what they would get to fulfil their needs. At the beginning there was the barter system. Men would sit around at a commonly designated place to exchange what they had produced in excess to get something else they hadn’t produced but needed. Maybe the guy with rice would approach the guy who had eggs and offer him 10 hands full of rice for 4 eggs. But the weaver with a bale of cloth was in trouble. No one was buying what he had because people wanted to get new clothes only for festive occasions. A number of people approached the guy with the goat. One said he wanted just a pound of meat, another said he needed three pounds. All the orders came only to about 6 pounds, but there were 60 on the hoof. The worst off was the guy who had nothing in front of him. When people asked him what he was selling he said that he could play 20 songs for anyone who needed a bit of music to be played for a special occasion. The people laughed at him and told him to go home and come back during the wedding season.
As time went on the barter system became exploitative. Those who had essential goods to barter began to take advantage of those whose goods were not that desperately needed. The man who had rice told the weaver that he would give him 20 hands full of rice for his entire bale of cloth. He told the man who had eggs that he would give him a handful of rice for each egg, and told the man who had the goat that he would let him have half a sack of rice for the live goat. It’s when that sort of thing happened that elders of societies began to develop a currency system. In primitive societies cattle were often used in the way we use currency. Imagine going to the market to buy some rice and oil, and taking a cow or two to give as payment for the items needed. In India and other parts of the world there was a time when cowries (porcelain-like shells) were used before currency was minted.
When the barter system ended, community sharing came to an end. It was replaced by selling. Markets and sales depend on exploiting needs and driving hard bargains. When anyone takes more than a fair price people describe is as “highway robbery.”When the highway robber wants to take your purse, he says, “your money or your life.” The challenge of the robber is one that makes us realize what truly matters when we strip our lives down to the bare essentials.
In your life what are the things you are buying? Or, to put it another way, what are you investing in? Never thought that your shopping would reveal your character, did you?
Our Lord talked about two men and their investments. The circumstances of their lives were the exact opposite. One was a poor man, a labourer, the other was rich, a merchant (Matt.13:44-46). The first man wasn’t searching for anything. He was just going about doing a hard day’s work. The other man was a shrewd man on the lookout for bargains and good buys. One found buried treasure; the other found the pearl of great price. Both men decided that what they had discovered was worth all that they had hoarded until then. When they succeeded in getting possession of what they had concluded was worth it all, their dull life of digging or searching was rendered ecstatic in one moment.
Our Lord Jesus said that we are to store up treasure in heaven. On earth stores can be robbed, or spoilt, or destroyed in some way (Matt.6:19-21). Since money can’t be dispatched to heaven, how did Jesus expect His followers to store up money and riches heaven, but let’s face it that all the storing up we Christians do is done on earth. We preach about storing up in heaven, but our aim and goal is to have valuables stored up for our present life and our retirement on earth.
The Apostle Paul, taking his cue from our Lord, said that we are not to run after what the world values, but instead make plans for increasing our riches in heaven:
…run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you…Teach those who are who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life 1 Tim.6:11-19, NLT).
Paul appears to have been the one to clarify how storing up in heaven takes place. He said that we are to be generous toward those in need. But that too came from our Lord, who said,
If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously (Matt.5:39-42).
Instead of hateful tit-for-tat, Jesus said that our tit-for-tat should be one of love. John the Baptist who was Christ’s herald told people that if they had more than what they needed, they were to give away the extra stuff:
Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it (Lk.3:11, GNB).
When the Early Church started up, one of the Spirit-inspired and Spirit-empowered phenomena that manifested the arrival of the Spirit was that there was a whole community of believers practising a life of sharing what they had:
All the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved (Acts 2:44-47, GNB).
Allow me to give you something to easily remember what we must value:
Hang loose where it concerns possessions.
Hang on to what is of value—your faith in Christ.
Hang out with those who love the Lord.