God and Money Week 4

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Idolatry: The Enemy of Stewardship

Good morning and once again welcome to those gathered here and to those watching online. Today is the final message in our series that we have called: God and Money. I’ve said this has been challenging for me because typically I preach through books of the Bible but for this series we are looking at a specific topic: stewardship. It’s been really good. If you have missed any of the sermons I would invite you to listen to the audio and catch up. Again, I am indebted to the work of the writers of the Core Seminar Stewardship study from Capitol Hill Baptist Church for their outline and research.
If you’ll think back with me, in the first week we learned that you don’t own what you own. It all belongs to God. And God, as a good and generous master has trusted us with the management of whatever amount we have each been blessed with. We are responsible to use that amount for the purposes of our master. In the second week we looked at what our giving should look like in relation to the the local church. Last week we looked at how our faithfulness proclaims the goodness and worth of God. We went back to the parable of the talents and discovered that unfaithfulness tells a lie about God.
Have you ever thought that you don’t really want to try to be a better steward or that you would like to be a better steward and you’ve tried but it just never works? Today we come to the final message which is about the enemy of stewardship, namely idolatry that lives deep down in our hearts.
I want to put something before you to consider this morning. When we are looking at our stewardship we often think that we need to change our behavior but I want to suggest to you that we don’t need a behavior modification but to modify who our God is. Somewhere deep in our hearts we are serving other gods rather than the one true God and that right there is the root of our difficulties in stewardship.
For an example, let’s turn to Abraham. But before we do, let’s pray.
In Genesis chapter 12 God makes a big promise. It’s a promise that echoes and reverberates throughout every page of the Bible. God appears to a guy named Abram, whose name He would change to Abraham. He promises to make Abraham into a great nation.
Genesis 12:2–3 ESV
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Later on, God takes Abraham outside at night.
Genesis 15:5–6 ESV
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Now, at this point in the story, a lot of time passes… years… other stuff happens and when he is one hundred, Abraham becomes a father through a miracle of God. He and his wife Sarah are filled with joy and name this son Isaac. This boy was the object of their parental affection but also the object of a divine promise, and miraculous intervention. To them this was probably the most precious gift in the world or at least would have seemed this way.
But when we come to chapter 22 in Genesis this kind of wild thing happens.
Genesis 22:1–2 ESV
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
Abraham obeys and takes Isaac to sacrifice him. But just as he is about to kill his son, God stops Abraham and instead provides a substitute sacrifice, a ram in the thicket. God retells the promise.
Genesis 22:15–19 ESV
And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.

Why does God call Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac?

A test - but not in a sense that you test an unknown substance, not knowing what you’ve got...
God knows everything. He sees our hearts.
Tim Keller quote from “Counterfeit Gods.”
“God’s extremely rough treatment of Abraham was actually merciful. Isaac was a wonderful gift to Abraham, but he was not safe to have and hold until Abraham was willing to put God first. As long as Abraham never had to choose between his son and obedience to God, he could not see that his love was becoming idolatrous.”
The enemies of stewardship: various forms of idolatry
God was protecting Abraham of idolatry. Isaac, just like everything you have, was a gift from God. But he was not safe to “have and to hold,” as Keller puts it, until Abraham’s heart was willing to put God before even his own son. God must be first in our hearts. When we get to loving the gifts more than the giver of the the gifts, we destroy those gifts, ourselves, and we defame the glory of God.
Today I’m going to attempt to show you why God hates idolatry, then help you identify when gifts are becoming idols, and then look at how to uproot that idolatry in our lives. So let’s begin by looking at how these good gifts God gives us can become idols in our hearts.

I. How Gifts Become Idols in our Hearts

When most of us think about idolatry, we probably think about a primitive culture worshipping a physical idol or statue. But that is not all that the Bible has in mind when it talks about idolatry.
In the book of Ezekiel we find a startling statement about the elders of Old Testament Israel.
Ezekiel 14:3 ESV
“Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them?
They had taken their idols into their hearts. The heart is what the Bible’s images as what, deep down, you love most and desire most. That place is the battleground of idolatry.
An idol is described as,
An idol “is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give” – Tim Keller
What this means is that every gift of God in your life is a candidate for idolatry. Everything you have is in danger of becoming something you worship.
I’ve quoted Tim Keller already this morning but in his book Counterfeit Gods, Keller talks about three ways that the Bible talks about idolatry. I want us to sort of use that template as we look at the three Biblical metaphors for Idolatry.

Three Ways the Bible Images Idolatry

In scripture we see people give into idolatry in these ways. We love idols, we trust idols, and we obey idols. These three are useful in seeing how the good gifts we have been given can become idols in our hearts.

Mariage Image

Sometimes the Bible talks about idolatry when we love something more than God and it becomes spiritual adultery. We love our idols because they promise to give us significance, value, worth, or beauty. We can see these idols if we ask ourselves, “what do I want most in life?” A lot of times we find that we have made an idol of our abilities in this way. We let our abilities define our worth or significance. We love them and make them our false lover. So that’s what I mean by a marital metaphor.

Religious Image

Another analogy that the bible uses is what Keller refers to as a “religious metaphor.” He means that it uses the language of salvation. Let me show you what he means.
Isaiah 45:20 ESV
“Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save.
If you ask yourself, “what alleviates my fear,” you will expose these idols in your life. They promise salvation. They promise control and security. They are a false savior.

Political Image

The final imagery that Keller mentions is the “political metaphor.” This is a battle for allegiance. A false master. This one is quite often a symptom of the first two. Sometimes you’ll find that an idol fits more than one of these categories.
Romans 1:25 ESV
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
When we believe that an idol is the way to get what is promised by the false lover or false savior, then that idol becomes a controlling false master. These people talked about in Romans 1 were serving their idols. How can these get out of whack?
Imagine a guy that wants to steward his time really well. So he lives by a schedule. But he starts to take it to the extreme. He starts to do the most productive thing with his time no matter the cost to those around him. He becomes controlled by and mastered by his schedule rather than the other way around. A whole lot of times this will result in uncontrollable anger, anxiety, despondency, or guilt.
There are times when we love our idols, trust them, and sometimes we obey them. Sometimes we do all three. But these are not just enemies of good stewardship but these idols are actually enemies of God.

II. Idols are worse than we may think.

They are worse than we think.
Idols are enemies of stewardship; idols are enemies of God.
I alluded to this last week. So many times, when we think of bad stewardship we think of it as living below optimal level or being a bad Christian or like we just aren’t living up to what we could be and it makes it seem like it’s not that big of a deal. But when we think about idols we think about loving something more than God which we know is bad and yet we also know is pretty common. But what I propose this morning is that we actually need to be putting these two concepts together and when we do it’s incredibly powerful.
Do you remember the parable of talents from Matthew chapter 25 that I have talked about at length?
The master is going away so he gives three servants, three different amounts of money. He promises to return and reward them. Two of these servants are faithful and go out and bet everything on the master’s promise. The use the time he is away and put his wealth to work for him. The third servant wants to play it safe and buries the money and presumably uses the time to serve himself. When the master returns, he calls that third servant WICKED. He is called wicked because his actions showed a lack of faith in the master. His actions lied about the master. They proclaimed the master was not trustworthy or generous. That was a lie. His actions didn’t matter because there was a lot of money at stake. They mattered because the Master’s glory was at stake!
We can sum this third servant up in idolatry. He treated his own time and wealth as more worthy of stewarding than the Master. That idolatry spewed out lies about the Master.
Viewing stewardship through a lens of results vs. a lens of faith.
To often we look at our stewardship through a lens of results instead of the lens of faith. This parable tells us to see it through the lens of faith. Does your giving reveal your faith in God’s promises? Does it show off the reputation of God?
I’ll give you an example that I got in the stewardship material I mentioned earlier:
Let’s say that Suzy is totally enslaved to a love of money. Because she considers herself a Christian, she gives 10% to her church in order to feel like she’s checked that box—but it takes zero faith to do that. Through the lens of results, you’d say something like “Suzy: that’s great, but you can do better. God’s really blessed you; you can totally give 20% if you want.” In other words, stewardship that’s sub-optimal. But through the lens of faith, you’d say something entirely different. “Suzy: because it doesn’t come from faith, your giving actually lies about the goodness of God. You throw down a measly 10% to satisfy the demands of this capricious deity and then go off to live life for yourself. Who’s the real god in your life?”
Matthew 9:13 ESV
Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Romans: For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (find reference)

Implication: Bad stewardship is idolatry.

There is a warning and an encouragement here.

- A warning

Don’t let stewardship become a safe haven for legalism. This happens when you give just enough to God or use your skills just enough for God that you feel like you’re being righteous but you’re actually deluding yourself. It’s not anymore honoring to God than when Solomon sacrificed to the Lord while he was also sacrificing to Molech, the false god on the side. God cares about your stewardship in that it shows your faith. With this warning there is also an encouragement.

- An encouragement

Jesus said that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, it’s enough. So the size of your faith doesn’t matter but the size of your God does. If you want you can get all twisted up in whether your stewardship is good enough or if you can do better, which are okay questions to ask. They’re fine. But those are not ultimate. In the parable the questions wasn’t how strong is your faith but do you have faith? Does the way you steward your time, talent, and treasure give evidence your faith that God is better than His gifts?
So far, we have learned that the enemy of stewardship is idolatry.
Idolatry is evil because it proclaims that something is better than God.
So it follows that bad-stewardship is not simply sub-optimal but actually evil. So if this is such a serious issue, how can I identify it in my life? I’m so glad that you asked.

III. How Can I Find Idolatry In My Heart?

Of course many times idolatry is invisible. You don’t physically see it for what it is. For example, the Israelites in Exodus 32 who were worshipping a golden calf may not have realized that what they were doing was idolatry. They might have just thought they were worshipping the Lord in a new and innovative way.
Look, we all have mixed motives. If you really start examining your emotions and motives to figure out if you’re doing something because you have made it an idol or because you’re a faithful steward you can get yourself all twisted up in knots. How do you know if you’ve taken one of these good gifts of God and made it into a false god?
This is a life long project. The basic tools that you will use to find this out are the normal means of grace.
Basic Tools
1. Scripture
2. Holy Spirit
3. The Local Church
4. Circumstances that God uses to reveal y our idolatry
5. Behavior (fruit of the Spirit) We recognize idolatry in the fruit of our lives.
Some questions to ask:

1. Can I imagine being content if things turn out differently than I hope?

2. Is my fear out of proportion to the situation?

3. Am I a faithful steward today?

4. Do I feel I’m better than others because of my stewardship?

5. Do I feel God’s cheated me out of what was rightfully mine?

6. What are my most unyielding emotions?

7. Where am I not being a good steward?

Honestly, there’s no easy two step program for identifying the idols in our hearts. It’s a life long fight. But it’s a fight that God is going to win. We have that guarantee as believers.
If you have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. In His completed work on the cross dying as substitute for you and absorbing the wrath of God due you because of your sin, and that He rose from the grave.

IV. Ways of fighting idolatry

So what do we do about this idolatry once we see it in our lives? I want to give you two approaches to it. I want to give you a reactive approach and a proactive approach. Reactive means what we do when we uncover idolatry and how we react to it. Proactive has to do with what we can do on the front end to keep our hearts from falling to idols. We will begin with the



James 4:1–10 ESV
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.


1. Desire to Disappointment (verse 2a)

Based on verse 2 we see idolatry begins with desire. This desire is often for a good thing. Maybe it’s something like not being in debt. Desire, though, changes as we move along in this passage. Paul Trip talks about how desire becomes a demand, which we express as s need. And when that need that we have expressed is not met, then it sets us up for disappointment.

2. Disobedience (verse 2b)

Up to this point it’s all been going on in your head. But now that desire works itself out into action. In James 4 it’s acted out in quarreling and fighting and even murder. The desire says that if I can’t have what I want that I’m going to do whatever it takes to get it, regardless of what God has told me in His Word. So to continue our earlier illustration about getting out of debt, you then take a job working Sunday mornings to earn some more money despite the fact that this keeps you from obeying the commands of scripture to not neglect the gathering of the saints.

3. Adultery (verse 4)

Here is where it gets to the low point of the passage. James takes what you thought was a horizontal problem and reframes it, letting us all know that this is a vertical problem. No matter what the result of the disobedience is, James still sees the root of your issue as idolatry. He refers to me as a spiritual adulterer. (call back to the picture of marriage from before) He calls me this because at this point in the illustration I am demonstrating that I want something more than God. In doing so, I have made myself God’s enemy. Now that truly is a low point. But thank God for verse 6. More grace!
You and I are powerless to fix our idolatry. God still acts. He’s still our Savior. So your response to God now is not yet action but it’s a posture, a posture of HUMILITY. Let’s look at verse 7 to see how we get to humility.


4. Submit (verse 7)

Decide you’re going to submit to Him no matter the cost. You make the decision to repent and as you draw near to God in humility, he promises to draw near to you. No matter how much of an idolater you are. This is an amazing promise. He’ll always draw near to you. As you draw near to God, he will make it more and more clear how you have made what that thing is an idol. When you commit to walk in a path of obedience you’ll see as you walk more and more ways that you can obey.

5. Confess (verse 8b)

James moves on to confession. You are not going to get rid of your idolatry by just thinking about it differently. You have to understand it as sin. Explore your heart so that you can understand the sin that is there and confess it.
Blaise Pascal said, “Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for
pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.”
Luke 7:47 ESV
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”


6. Exaltation (verse 10)

We can exalt in Christ’s forgiveness and love for us and so we can love much!
So that’s the reactive approach or what to do when we see idolatry in our lives. But what is a proactive approach to protect ourselves from making idols out of good gifts from the Lord?

Proactive: Faith and Enjoyment


- Trusting God in times of deprivation
- Generosity


1 Timothy 4:4 ESV
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,
You can enjoy things in an idolatrous way—where you focus only on the gift and not the giver. But one of the chief delights of the Christian life is learning to enjoy the gifts of God as worship.
Training your heart to see enjoyment as worship will move through a progression of shaking your heart free from idolatry and teach you to enjoy God which is the reason you were created in the first place.
Do you need to move through the reactive approach right now?
Do you need to be pro-active and excercise your faith and enjoyment of the Lord as worship more?
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