Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lane chapter 18b

Institutes (3.9-10)


How should we regard this life and the next?


Calvin and the scriptures provide this answer:  life on earth is temporal.  All is “vanity under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes)  Even those who find themselves content due to wealth and happiness “can be sufficiently awakened to the evil surrounding us, be awakened to weigh the misery of this life.  Our minds must be aroused to sufficiently see that the many allurements which provide the pleasantries, the many blessings, and the sweetness need to be viewed with contempt for this life to seriously desire to ponder the life to come.” (Institutes, p. 713)


Regardless of the wealth or poverty, extreme joy or misery one may find living in this world, it must be viewed as a temporal world and seen and accepted for what it is.  With the realization that all is “vanity under the sun” (Ecclesiastes) we should be able to hold this life in contempt and strive for the ultimate goal of “good” within our hearts and meditate upon the life to come.  As Dr. Matt said in the podcast, “This life is our ‘childhood’, whether we have a good ‘nannie’ or a bad one.”  This life flows in different directions for each person.  It has been my privilege to have seen and spent time with people in extreme poverty and also people of great wealth.  Both sectors struggle with their own spirituality.  Having traveled to Haiti many times working in my construction field to build churches and schools, I have worshiped with people of a society that has little but continued misery for a future in this world.  However, I have never seen people who do have so little, yet have so much faith and spirituality.  It seems to me that those who have the least to be happy about often provide the most fervent praise to God.  Haiti is a classic example of less is more.  The less they have, the more they worship, and praise God for what they do have.  The life that requires meeting challenges and having more to overcome seems to bring with it a greater appreciation for the glory of the heavenly kingdom.  It provides a natural desire to mediate on the life that is yet to come.  The poverty motivates the people of Haiti with a stronger desire to worship God, as opposed to the lack of motivation often seen in the wealthy in this country.  It is not unusual for worship services in Haiti to last three hours; many folks in my congregation are complaining if the service runs over fifteen minutes!  Whether you are living in wealth and comfort or poverty and misery, this world should be seen and accepted as a germination period for the heart for salvation.


With regard to life after death the answer is ‘eternality.’  When believers leave this world with the power of the resurrection in their hearts, they know that the cross of Christ will carry them to triumph over all evil.  They will know peace unspeakable that surpasses all understanding and experience all the inheritance of being a child of God.  The fullness of God’s glory will be theirs.  Calvin addresses the fear of death in this powerful statement:  “But monstrous it is that many who boast themselves Christians are gripped by such a great fear of death, rather than a desire for it, that they tremble at the least mention of it, as of something utterly dire and disastrous.” (Institutes 3.9.5)


The personal pain of losing a very close friend less than a year ago comes back to me as I write this.  We were friends for over fifty years.  He was a wealthy person with multiple houses and ‘toys’ in Hawaii and Florida.  We shared many adventures traveling around the world together.  He was diagnosed with lung cancer and was absolutely terrified about dying.  He did not know Jesus.  One of the things he kept saying was “I have too much to live for.”  Yet he had no family, never married, had few friends – he was strictly referring to material things.  I never could get him to stop looking at what he was leaving and look at where he could be going.  Without Jesus death becomes the enemy.


My question is:  Do you think wealth or poverty is more advantageous to seeking the Kingdom of Heaven


  1. Matthew 19:23, “Jesus said to his disciples, truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus also talks about how we can’t serve both God and money. We must decide who we are going to allow to dictate our decisions. I feel that the amount of money is irrelevant to a spiritual connection with God. We need to seek first God’s kingdom like Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33. Those who have money have the opportunity to be a blessing in people’s life and there is no greater joy than to help someone in need. The Holy Spirit can work through the believer who has wealth and is willing to be selfless with it, just as much as the believer that doesn’t have wealth and is content with the life that is before them. I have walked the streets of a Haitian village handing out plastic beads and I have seen kids, and adults alike become just as selfish and greedy for them as a rich man would for money. It's all about the condition of our hearts not necessary the amount of things we are given. In the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. The master gives the amount of money according to their abilities. He has asked them to multiply those talents while he is away. The servant that just hides it and does nothing with it is regarded as wicked. And the servant that multiplies to the 10 talents is given more. It is up to us to use what God has given us to help others and serve God with our money.

  2. My thought rests more along the line of one's focus, rather than one's wealth or financial statement. My focus can be infatuated by money in either poverty or wealth, and so your question is tricky, really. In wealth one holds tightly to what one has, or can be distracted from the Kingdom of God in this way, or can be freed from concerns related to financial security and in this way devote more time to caring for others seeking to learn more, read more and be closer to God. Versus one who is poor and unable to claim any kind of financial security might bring anxiety, exhaustion, physical harm even. These realities can be not only discouraging but distracting from keeping one's focus on the Lord and the work of the Lord.
    And so, my final answer is, it doesn't matter. What matters is where one's focus is rather than how much money one has.
    Just my thought.

    1. Agree completely, Claire, the things of this world are tools. It is how we use them that counts.

  3. Nice summary, Dan, and a poignant illustration at the end. Like you, I think we can value physical things too much, people are definitely more important.

    I like how Calvin deals with the things of this world. He notes that God gave us good things for a reason, God "meant to provide for necessity, but also for delight and good cheer." (Institutes, 3.10.2) We use these things to help us on our journey through this life. Once in a while, we need a respite. Even so, we despise them in comparison to the life God has planned for us.

    In many ways Calvin seems to me to be practical in his theology. He is often depicted as austere, yet I think this section proves these images as mistaken.

  4. Earlier in this section it talked about a life of suffering is a sharing in the cross of Christ. I think we need to remember the real persecutions and suffering for the faith that where happening when Calvin wrote this.

    My answer to your question: It's not what you have, but what you love... unless you only love what you have.

  5. Thank you all, you nailed it. Nailed it to the cross. /very helpful to get some closure on a sad day.

  6. Dan, thank you for working us through this portion of the Institutes and for sharing your life experiences. I thought this section was a roller coaster ride - hate this life, love this life, hate this life, love this life. Calvin even acknowledges in 3.10.1 that we are balancing on the top of a mountain with a slippery slope on either side. In section 3.10.4, I though Calvin had an excellent measuring stick, taken from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, we should acknowledge what we have as from God, but be willing to lose it. If we truly are willing to be in poverty if we have wealth, or be single if we have a partner, we might be close to maintaining a balance.

    I have a story about a wealthy person that uses it to the glory of God. I am closely acquainted with the founders of The Buckle. Someone once remarked that the owner looks as "common as an old shoe." I would agree, to the extent that no one passing on the sidewalk would suspect wealth. His wife shops at Goodwill. In talking with the founder, he commented to me that he is still amazed that he has any money at all. He got into blue jeans on the upswing and "who knew?" They use a great deal of their money to help their congregation with medical expenses, as well as untold millions donated to things in the community - all anonymously. I will echo everyone above, you can find a way to do God's will in poverty or wealth.

  7. I think either one can be a hindrance. It truly is all about how willing I am to give up any and everything that God has given me. And, as Calvin says, this is not just about money. There are so many other things that God gives us and we hoard - time, talents.
    So,there is the balance needed. Appreciating every day and gift I am given - but at the same time, be willing to give it all up for the next life.

  8. I would like to introduce and echo Christy’s comment here. Money can be used in ways that improve industry, communities, and blessings to others. That really stretched how I typically think about the rich. I have been truly blessed in my life to always have enough to provide for my family and enough to be able to share with others. Money can and sometimes does define who people are, but only if we let it. Money only becomes and obstacle if the owner allows it (lack or abundance would both fit).

  9. I have been blessed to work with some very wealthy women while working in Indianapolis. These folks had Jaguars, expensive houses, servants - you name it. By looking at them, you might assume they had everything. What struck me about these same women was their lack of self-worth, their longing for direction and emotional support. In many ways they were the "poorest" folks I had ever met. It is easy to overlook these folks as they seemingly have everything, but I held their hands and dried their tears for their hearts were damaged. I think money for these women was an obstacle as they were so convinced by society that they "should be happy."