Free from the Trap

taking-care-of-our-church

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. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

 

 

Aron Ralston was all alone in the middle of the secluded Blue John Canyon in southeastern Utah.  An 800 lb. boulder had pinned his right arm.  He was trapped with no way out and no one around.  It was a devastating conclusion for a promising life.  He had two college degrees, one in engineering the other in French.  He had been an office man with Intel.  He gave that up for the guts and glory of mountaineering.  Now, that was the very thing that was trapping him.  He had about 12 oz. of water and a couple burritos with him.  No phone.  He didn’t tell anyone he was going out that day.  It was just him, the meager rations, and the 800 lb. boulder.  If everything worked out perfectly he could last a week – but even that was carelessly optimistic – and then he would die, trapped and alone.  What he loved so much would ruin him.

Maybe you haven’t been pinned by a boulder in the middle of a desert canyon, but there is a different snare that is just around the bend if we aren’t careful.  There is one thing that beckons people off the trail into a dangerous trap. Paul says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Let’s just be clear, the trap is NOT money.  Money is a blessing from a God who loves us and takes care of us.  Money is something we use to provide for the needs of our families. Money cares for the poor and destitute.  Money supports the church.  Money is not bad.  It’s not a sin to have money.  Looking through the Scriptures there are plenty of examples of God-fearing rich people:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, David, Solomon, and many others.  And looking around here today, brothers and sisters, we are wealthy, too.

You cannot even begin to think that you are poor.  You have a place with walls, ceilings, rooms, windows, and even yards to call home.  Most of the people living in the world right now do not have that.  Do you know that the average salary in America right now is over $50,000 a year?  That’s about 137 dollars a day for 365 days of the year. Over one third of people around the world work for about 2 dollars a day.  You are very rich.  God has put you in one of the wealthiest places on the planet.  Kings from Bible times through 1700s would gawk at your extravagance.  You have heating and cooling throughout the whole house.  You have bathrooms and electricity.  You have a place to keep meat, milk, fruit, and vegetables cool and fresh for days and weeks.  You have more entertainment at your fingertips than what you know what to do with.  We are rich.  And that’s ok.  There is nothing wrong with blessings.  Don’t feel guilty because you live in America in the 21st century.  It’s not a sin to be wealthy.

What did Paul say? The trap is “the love of money.”  Loving money is the root from which all sorts of evil grow.  It’s loving money that Solomon warns against in the OT reading.  When the wisest man who has ever lived (who also happened to be quite wealthy) warns against loving money, then you know just how much of a trap it can be.

I think John D. Rockefeller can illustrate this point very well.  He was the guy who started Standard Oil in the early 1900s.  At one point he was the richest person in the world and first ever American billionaire.  Once a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?”  Do you know how he answered?  “Just a little bit more.” The love of money is such a dangerous trap because when you love it you can never have enough of it, as Solomon says and so, so many more would agree.

Having money doesn’t have to turn you into a greedy money-lover.   I thinking most of us here today would say we aren’t tipping that greedy side of the scale like Scrooge, but what about Rockefeller?  Is there a slight possibility that similar thoughts have entered your mind and similar words have been spoken?  “Just a little bit more and everything will be ok.  If I can loosen the budget just a bit then I will be content.”  It’s that simple thought that seems so harmless but pushes us into a dangerous situation.

It’s like Aron Ralston.  He just wanted an exciting afternoon in the Blue John Canyon. His thrill-seeking spirit never expected to be caught in a deadly situation by one of his adventures.  And yet there he sat, waiting to die, trapped by his own doing.

And isn’t that exactly how greed works.  It starts small,  “just a little bit more.”  But that root can grow into such a huge tree of evil.   It starts small thinking that generosity means less for me.  It’s thinking, “I need” when really, it’s “I want or like.”  It’s thinking, “someone else who has more money can help with that.”  It’s that little bit of greed that confuses my priorities and wrecks my balance.  Selfishness creeps up more and more and service is forgotten, because service is not about me and mine.  It makes me think of my life now rather than my eternity.  And when I live that way, then I’m trapped.

Nothing can do that more than the love of money.  It’s the first thing that newlyweds argue about.  It’s the topic that keeps parents up at night.  It’s the last worry on the hearts of retirees.  Loving money is the quickest way to ruin a family, not help it.  It’s the best way to short-change God and trap yourself in the devil’s snare.

Going over these words from Paul today, I hope you aren’t thinking to yourself this is just another ploy from a pastor.  I hope you aren’t getting the idea that the church is all about money.  That’s not it!  At all!  Paul is trying to help us understand that loving money makes no sense because it never lasts.  It makes no sense because it always leads to the devils trap.  And that trap is not easy to escape, because it’s eternal death in hell.

Paul says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” That’s where Aron Ralston was.  He was about to take nothing out of it.  And that’s where loving money gets us, too.

Do you know what happened to him?  Maybe you’ve seen the movie, 127 hours.  See, Aron was trapped in that canyon for 3 days and then 4 days, getting more dehydrated and delirious.  He knew what it would take to get out. He would have to cut his own arm off if he wanted to escape.  He had a multi-tool in his bag and he thought it could work.  He tried sticking the blade into his arm, but he couldn’t get through the bone.  On day 5 he took a video of himself on his camera and carved his own tombstone.  Then on the morning of the 6th day, he had a lucid moment and realized he could just break the radius and ulna using torque against his trapped arm.  And so he did it.  He wrenched his body to break both bones in his arm.  And then he MacGyvered a tourniquet and cut through his own arm for about an hour with a small dull multi-tool knife.

Do you think that something similar is needed for you when it comes to loving money?  Is it going to take that kind of desperate and drastic measure to get out of sin’s trap?  Of course it is!  Sin isn’t easy to get rid of.  It won’t just take care of itself.  The devil won’t just up and leave.  And it’s going to take a sacrifice bigger than cutting off your own arm.  It’s going to take more that you could ever do.

That’s why Jesus came.  He didn’t want you wallowing to death in the trap of greed.  He didn’t want your life to be ruined by your own stupidity.  So Jesus went into the pit for you.  He was trapped by sin and death in your place.  He let you go free.  Not because of how hard you were trying to get out and you just needed an extra push.  Not because of how long you were trapped and how many prayers you said.  It’s because of his grace and mercy.  It’s so unearned and so undeserved and so needed for people like us.

Each one of us feels these temptations.  Each one of knows the dangers.  Each one of us has experienced the traps.  It’s the love of money.  It’s the materialism.  It’s the “just a little bit more” mentality.  It’s lusting eyes.  It’s perverse mouths.  It’s selfish thoughts.  It’s harmful actions.  It’s lazy faith.  It’s mixed up priorities.  It’s sin, and we all know it too well.  And so does Jesus, because he took all of those sins and carried them out to Calvary.  He traveled that path and went out to that cliff to die for us.  We don’t have to free ourselves by making some serious sacrifice.  He made the sacrifice.  He freed us from the traps.  He took them away forever.  You are not going to die trapped by your own sin.  Jesus died for you.

That’s the kind of God you have, a God who didn’t just send out a search party to find where you were trapped, a God who didn’t just try and get you the help you needed, you have a God who found you and freed you completely.  There was no punishment that you needed to endure.  No pain that you needed to survive.

But there is a fight left.  After he freed himself, he could still die in that canyon.  He was free from the death trap, but he still had to climb, rappel and hike 8 miles back to his truck.  Talk about a grueling and punishing fight?  If Aron was going to live he had to keep fighting and keep going.

That’s where Paul is getting at today.  No, we don’t have to free ourselves from greed.  Jesus took care of that for us.  But there is a fight to stay on the right path, not wandering into another one of sin’s traps.  Paul says “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”  That’s the best kind of fight you can have.

That’s kind of where our story is different from Aron Ralston.  We didn’t free ourselves.  We aren’t fighting to stay one step ahead of death.  We aren’t waiting for rescue like him. He was a goner if he didn’t get help.  And it came.  Four hours after cutting off his own arm.  After climbing and rappelling and hiking, two hikers happened to see him on the trail.  They gave him food and water.  They called for help.  After 127 hours, Aron Ralston was rescued.  He was going to live, because he fought and because he got help at just the right time.

Our fight against the temptations and trappings of greed is not like his. We are fighting this good fight of faith because we are already free.  We pursue this new life, because Jesus has already given it to us.  We have the freedom from sin.  We have the eternal life that God has given us.  We have this glorious ministry of love and service.  We have this message to carry with us.  It’s not a fight to stay alive and reach safety.  It’s a fight that knows we are already safe in the arms of Jesus; we have life with him no matter what happens.  No one can take that away from us.  This is not the fight for freedom and life.  We have this good fight of joy and thankfulness because we already have freedom and life in Jesus.

So, do you know what this fight of faith is going to look like this week?  It’s a godly life where Jesus is the focus.  We won’t turn from this side to that looking for another trap to catch us.  We keep our eyes on Jesus and the life to which he has called us.  That means you’re going to be a godly employee fighting the good fight of faith, giving your best as if you were working for the Lord.  You’re going to be a godly boss, fighting the good fight of faith to be generous and kind.  You’re going to be godly parents not because of what you buy for your kids, but because of your patience and gentleness.  You’re going to be a godly spouse looking not at what you can get but what you can give, serving with love and humility.  You’re going to be a child of God who’s not trapped by greed but content with whatever the Lord has given.  You’re going to be the kind of person who’s not looking for whatever this world has to offer but to the Savior, Jesus, keeping your eyes on him and in his Word.  That’s the good fight.

You know Aron Ralston is probably pretty happy how things worked out back in the Blue John Canyon.  Your story is better.  Jesus freed you from sin’s trap and has given you a new life.  You have the eternal freedom from the ruin of sin.  You have an eternal life at your Savior’s side.

So keep fighting the good fight of faith.  Amen.

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