In El Salvador, I poured concrete. It was back-breaking work. I’d never done anything like it before. Right after graduating from high school, I went on a mission trip there to build homes for people who had lost them to an earthquake. When we arrived, we were divided up into teams. The last team I wanted to be on was the one mixing and pouring concrete. But that’s where I ended up.
So we made the concrete, poured it into the hole made for the foundation, and did the work. We were building a firm foundation for the future. And we were doing so out of generous spirits, doing good, by volunteering our time and effort. But of course, it didn’t feel that way to me at the time. I was bitter about being on the foundation team! I found myself praying that prayer of Theodore Roosevelt: ask not for a lighter load but for a stronger back. But I was praying it only because I knew no one would lighten my load.
Building a foundation through generosity. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that we were doing just that: building a foundation through generosity. That’s also what Timothy has to say to Paul here in our scripture this morning, but it’s not usually how we think about building a foundation. In fact, for me, I’m more likely to think about building a foundation through being tight-fisted, controlling; self-reliant.
Let’s hear what Paul has to say to his mentee Timothy in his first letter to Timothy, near the end of the letter in chapter 6:
The rich “are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future,” verses 18 and 19. I wrestled with it because I want to build up a firm foundation.
Part of how I feel called in this life is to build a foundation for my children so that they have opportunities I did not have. The decisions Dana and I make with our finances, the way we handle our finances, the saving we do, all relates back to that desire: to build some modicum of wealth to leave to our children. We don’t desire anything major; just to have some assets to leave behind, to be prepared ourselves if we need long-term care later on in life, and to have property and other tangible assets to leave to them.
This involves careful monitoring of our finances. I have a budget spreadsheet where I keep close track. We have an internal accounting system to be able to keep up with expenses and look back to see where we spent money. I track our net wealth, always seeking for it to be going up. All this to be purposeful and careful in the building of a foundation to leave to our children.
It’s part of how I feel God has called me. And perhaps you can relate. What parent doesn’t want to leave things better for their children? Who doesn’t want to create a firm foundation for their children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, or anyone we care about?
I want to build up a firm foundation.
So do Timothy and Paul. They have a new church, a nascent community of The Way, as Christians called themselves back then, that they’re building. It’s fair to say that this is the start-up phase of the church. It looks good, it’s attracting a following, but it could all collapse on them. Like the old metaphor, they’re building the plane as they go.
Or perhaps it’s fair to compare them to a company like Rivian. That electric truck and SUV manufacturer is attracting much attention and capital investment. In fact, I made a 46% return on them. Now, before you get too impressed, I made about $20. I wanted to learn more about the stock market a while ago and took out a RobinHood account; a way of investing small amounts of money in the market. I put in $50 and started trading. Back in January, I’d turned that $50 into $146. Now, it’s worth about $86, for all of us have experienced the downturn of the market. But I’m learning a lot, and that’s the point.
Because I want my knowledge to help me learn more about how to build the foundation of wealth I want to leave behind for my children. Start-ups like Rivian also want to learn how to build a firm foundation. But being a start-up, it could all fall apart. They haven’t firmly established themselves yet, so it’s still a risky investment. The church in Paul and Timothy’s day hadn’t established itself either, so it’s also a risky investment. The foundation isn’t firm; they’re still building it.
So Paul gives Timothy advice on how to build that firm foundation. And upon reading those verses, my ears perked up because I want that. And, who doesn’t?
Those instructions come in the verses I read earlier: The rich “are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future,” verses 18 and 19.
It’s instructions for building a good foundation. And what are those instructions? Do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share. That’s not my usual reaction to building a foundation, especially when talking about money. At times when I’ve watched our net worth decline, or when money has been tight, my reaction is quite the opposite of what Paul says here. Rather than be generous and ready to share, I scheme about how to get rid of debt, about how to handle our finances better, about how to loosen up our budget. I watch every penny more closely. And part of that is good; it’s good to keep a close eye on finances and it’s good to pay down debt faster than the schedule of minimum payments.
But when I get that way, it means that I’m not feeling particularly generous, I’m not very ready to share, I’m not doing much scheming of how our finances can do good works. In other words, I’m relying upon myself, upon what I can control, to restore the firm foundation I once felt. I’m being self-reliant.
According to Paul here, and it fits with the witness of all of scripture about money, a firm foundation is built upon doing good, being generous, being ready to share. That’s because a firm foundation is built upon relying upon God for all things, not upon myself.
My instincts say that to build a firm foundation, I should control as much as possible and rely upon myself. But Paul says where my instincts are to be tight-fisted and controlling, I should be generous. Where my instincts are to erect boundaries and limits, I should be ready to share.
In other words, build a foundation through generosity.
To share, to be generous, is to be reliant upon God, not upon ourselves. And that’s the trap I generally fall into. The love of money is a root of evil and to love something is to make something the object of our hope, to put our future into it, to put ourselves into it. And sometimes, when I’m wanting to build that foundation for the future, I do just that. We might tend to think of greed as the love of money, but really sometimes, it’s where we place our hope.
When I fall into the trap of putting my hope in money, it’s ultimately because I want to rely upon myself, rather than God. I want to rely on my skills, my abilities, my careful money management, to create the foundations I want to create. But like we discussed last week, the task before us is to give generously out of what God has given us, whether that be skills, talents, time, or money.
Paul adds to that with the Scripture here by saying that God takes our generosity and builds firm foundations. Those firm foundations come not through self-reliance, through controlling or being tight-fisted, which is what my instinct says to do. Maybe you can relate to that. No, Paul says the firm foundations we desire come through being reliant upon God to provide. Right before those convicting verses, Paul says that the rich should set their hopes on God, “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” God provides, God is generous, and our response to God’s provision is to be generous ourselves.
To build the firm foundations we want, we should be generous as God is generous.
What foundations are you wanting to build? Or what foundations are you wanting to keep? Where our instincts might tell us to be tight-fisted and controlling, instead look to be generous, ready to share, seeing how God is calling you to do good with what God has entrusted to you.
And as a church, we want to build upon the foundation left to us. To do so, Paul admonishes us together to be generous, ready to share, seeking to do all the good we can. Where instinct might say otherwise, we must rest in the Holy Spirit, understanding that God will provide as we move out in the ways God has called us.
For that’s what it means to be generous as God is generous. We are to be ready to share when God calls us to share, trusting that God will provide the resources we need to do what God has called us to do. As Paul says, and as scripture says over and over again, God will provide. It’s God’s good pleasure to provide for us, to pave a way for us, to give us what we need not only to do what God has called us to do but, as Paul says right there near the end, for our enjoyment even!
Let us, then, be generous to build a firm foundation. Let us be generous with our time, with our skills, and with our finances.
Let us not be self-reliant, for ultimately such self-reliance is grounded in fear. That’s true for me: I fear what might happen, or I fear things falling apart, or I fear doing a bad job or making a mistake, and so my response is to control as much as I can and to rely only on myself. I can imagine Timothy feeling fearful as well, worried about starting a church, building it from the ground up. We pastors are not immune from fear and, in fact, I know that as I have started here, fear has been part of my experience.
But fear is never of God. That is a firm conviction of mine and it is clear across scripture. If God is of hope, and God is, then fear, the opposite of hope, has no place. Paul says we are to place our hope in God, who richly provides us with what we need. Hope for the future, not fear, comes through being generous, understanding that it is God, not us, who lays the foundations of our lives, establishing us.
Our final hymn says, “how firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word!” That’s exactly Paul’s point to Timothy, but then the hymn continues, “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” God will take care, God will establish, God will be generous in providing for us. Our job is to be generous in response; generous as God is generous.
So, as we seek to build or keep foundations, as we do our work, as we manage our money, let us not be fearful or dismayed but instead generous. God will take care, God will provide, for God says to us still today: “the soul that on Jesus still leans for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes. That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.” God will provide. God has provided. God is generous with us.
So let us go, then, and build foundations through generosity.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.
2 thoughts on “Building Foundations”
Awesome sermon, Ted!
Thanks, Shirley! Hope you and Mario are doing well